February 22, 2017

On A Mission To Save Mom & Pop Restaurants In South Jersey

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McKinnon Erario

The Messl.

McKinnon Erario takes amazing pictures (here and here). A lot of them are of cars, the Pinelands and abandoned buildings. But a couple of weeks ago he started something different, using the hashtag #SaveMomandPop on a picture of Nixon’s General Store. Since then, he’s visited a few more independent food spots. The mission? To get more people in the area to check out family-owned restaurants and diners.

“I’m really troubled to see all these abandoned mom and pop shops when I’m out exploring… To me there’s nothing more American than sitting down with the locals, sharing stories and local gossip while getting a nice home cooked meal for cheap! I hate seeing convenience stores like Wawa shut these great spots down,” he wrote on Instagram. Erario grew up in Galloway and Absecon and was part motivated by seeing At The Hop Diner torn down to make way for a Wawa.

Mercury Capri outside the closed At The Hop Diner before it was demolished. (Erario)

Route 40 met up with Erario at Essl’s Dugout on the Black Horse Pike. We ate some Messls (Kaiser rolls with cheese, egg, bacon and homefries – “You can’t get a sandwich like this at Wawa,” Erario said) and we talked about his project.

“I just wanted to get people thinking about places like this more. And maybe coming out to places like this.

“For my first one, I went to Nixon’s General Store and someone sent me a message saying that, as the result of what I posted, they went out there. So it’s already working a little bit.”

McKinnon Erario

Nixon’s General Store (Erario)

We talked a bit about chain restaurants and convenience stores that have moved in to spots where family-owned restaurants used to be, like with At The Hop Diner.

“Part of the problem, at least in Galloway, is it’s all Stockton kids and they’re all about their Starbucks, their Wawa. They love Wawa. And that food is terrible, really, you think about it – it’s convenient, it can hit the spot sometimes… but these kids live on that stuff, rather than coming to a place like this.

“You could come out here and study, write or whatever. But they don’t see it that way.”

McKinnon Erario at Essl’s Dugout. (Sprouse)

We talk about our Messls and we chat with the Dugout’s co-owner Sharon Essl. You can’t manufacture and replicate the kind of food and feeling in these places.

Erario, who works nights and is thinking about going back to school, says he’s open to suggestions of places to go. “For right now I’m just going to do diners and food places and stuff… who knows where I’ll end up.”


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