Reminiscing the Red Storm Diner

What will St. John’s culture be without its iconic late night diner?

The Red Storm Diner, a late night, pre-pandemic staple on campus, has served its last burger. 

Once an iconic piece of Queens campus culture, the Diner’s fate was sealed when the University announced on March 17 that both the diner and the attached residence hall, St. Vincent Hall, will be demolished come this fall to make way for a new academic building.

Not long ago, there was rarely a night when the diner was not full of students or had a line extending out of the door. A vibrant kitchen staff and fast fried grub made for the perfect midnight setting. As of this spring, the diner has remained closed for over a year, a casualty of the new normal of campus life amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The decision comes nearly two years after the future of the Red Storm Diner first became uncertain, after talk of potentially closing its doors to save money was discussed at a Student Government Inc. meeting in 2019. 

Opened in 2009 as a late night dining option for students, the Red Storm Diner will now leave a special place in history for students of the last decade. 

Its iconic decor, which included red vinyl booths, black and white tiled floors and silver bar stools, made it a hub for students pulling all-nighters, celebrating a basketball win or coming back from a night out at parties or bars. As far as the food, every student had their own go-to meal exchange or premium swipe item, whether it be a classic chicken caesar salad or a “buff-no-buff” (a buffalo chicken sandwich sans the buffalo sauce). 

With the demolition of St. Vincent’s Hall come this fall, the Red Storm Diner will also remain permanently closed. (TORCH PHOTO/ SPENCER CLINTON)

For a lot of students, the diner was also a more intimate setting to spend time with others. For two alumni, Brooke Schaeffer and Asif Shajib, the diner served as the venue for their very first date. 

“It was the closest thing to a restaurant on campus and was cheap [enough] that we could both afford it as students and/or on meal plan,” Schaeffer told the Torch of their diner dates in the early 2010’s.

The pair got to know each other over the years through their dates at the diner before their respective graduations in 2014 and 2016 and have since married. Schaeffer hopes that St. John’s will bring another similar location to campus for students to have the same “unique” experiences.  

“It added a more traditional restaurant dining experience that you can’t get anywhere else on campus … It added an element to dining where it didn’t just feel like a cafeteria,” she said.  

Other students can attest to the time they spent both with others and by themselves at the diner. Junior Nicole Petrick recalls the diner being the perfect place to hang out with friends after drama rehearsals. 

Alum Lanie Biggar, who graduated in 2014, said the diner was everything from a gathering spot for a post-night out meal, to a quiet place to eat a meal alone on the terrace out front on a spring day.

“I vividly remember studying under the trees outside of the diner on a beautiful spring day. That area outside of the diner was a hidden gem,” Biggar said. She also resided in St. Vincent Hall her freshman year and told the Torch, “I still talk to so many people I met in St. Vinny’s [seven] years later.” 

With so many memories built over the years and such a strong influence on St. John’s, the loss of the diner begs the question – where will students gather post-pandemic and what will be of the culture of St. John’s? 

Montgoris Hall (known as Monty’s) remains open and its revised hours this academic year do reflect the lack of a late night spot on campus, as it remains open until 1 a.m., as opposed to 10 p.m. in previous years. They do offer some of the items that you could once find in the diner, including burgers, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and other fast food items. 

According to Scott Lemperle, executive director of Conference & Auxiliary Services, did not detail whether any new late night options would open in place of the Red Storm Diner, these hours and late night food options will continue into the fall. 

What Montgoris does not have, for some, is the same charm and “special” atmosphere that drew students into the diner. 

“The diner was one of the few places open on campus late at night. Sure there is Monty’s but that’s open all the time so it’s not as special,” Senior Brian Borgersen told the Torch.

For Borgersen, his first visit to the diner is the memory that stands out the most. He remembers hearing about a diner on campus and had to search for its hidden location before finding that path through trees and gravel leading to its doors. He was “immediately in love” with the diner’s theme and decor, as well as the friendly staff and food. 

“It was a good alternative to Monty‘s to hang out with friends or take a study break. Without it, students won’t have that dedicated late night spot to hang out,” he continued.  

“I’m not happy about the diner closing,” senior Alexa Williams said. “I feel like it should still be open because of the great food and the amazing people that work at the diner.” 

For Williams and others, the stars of the Red Storm Diner were the staff. It was those late hours of the night before the kitchen closed at 2 a.m. that the diner was often buzzing with energy from students and diner staff alike. 

“Part of the reason I enjoyed the diner so much is because of the employees,” Borgersen said. “I always remember feeling very welcome[d] by them.”

Junior Martin Lin remembers the hilarity of one employee, Terri, giving an unsuspecting freshman “hell” as a prank for ordering a buffalo chicken sandwich instead of a “buff-no-buff.” One evening Lin and his friends got hungry at 3 a.m. and went to the diner thinking it was still open and Terri “nearly chewed their heads off” for barging in. Lin, however, wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

It was a good alternative to Monty‘s to hang out with friends or take a study break. Without it, students won’t have that dedicated late night spot to hang out.”

— Brian Borgersen

Lemperle told the Torch that “according to Chartwells, all employees from the Red Storm Diner were able to be reassigned to Montgoris Dining Hall.” 

Freshmen who lived in residence halls or spent time on campus during the 2020-2021 academic year may never have even set eyes on the diner in their first year at St. John’s and will certainly not know what you mean if you told them about getting a “stack” (pancakes) at 1 a.m.  or what condiments you add to your grilled cheese sandwich (on rye bread, not white, of course).  

“I heard it’s the best food on campus and I’m really sad freshmen won’t be able to experience it,” freshman Maiah Geib told the Torch. As far as late night hangs or eats, Geib says she knows students go to Montgoris Hall for waffles and other “late night munchies” and hang around on the benches outside of the dining hall. 

Geib says she does visit another iconic St. John’s spot, the view of the New York City skyline at the top of the stairs that also lead the way to the diner. Resident Assistants have also given students things to do on campus, but Geib says, “besides that if I want anything to do I feel I need to go off campus.” 

“I don’t think freshman can fully get a feel of what SJU is like, as there were a lot more rules and protocol in place,” she continued. Rather than experiencing it for herself, Geib has had to hear tall tales from upperclassmen about what St. John’s could be without pandemic precautions in place.  

“I’ve heard, though, from other older students that it’s a much more lively place without [COVID-19 protocols] around,” Geib said. “I’m excited to find out what SJU is all about hopefully by next semester.” 

According to Lemperle, dining services does expect some changes this fall, including the renovation of the Starbucks in the D’Angelo Center over the summer for a “fresh new look and expanded Starbucks product line.” Any further decisions on other changes are expected to be made at the end of the academic year and into the summer. 

Geib, although a freshman, told the Torch that several off campus spots do come to mind when she considers St. John’s staples – these included Parsons Ale House, Cobblestones Pub in Kew Gardens and Nikkos, just a walk away from campus down Union Turnpike. 

All of these off-campus locations have had to adjust to reduced capacities, multiple reopenings and overall uncertainty. What has resulted from an empty campus is in turn the lack of some of the little things that make up St. John’s student culture for the last decade — like a “buff-no-buff.” 

Patrons and staff of the Red Storm Diner last spring may not have known that the diner would cease to exist come Fall 2021, or even remember the last meal they ate there, but the beloved venue has housed countless dates, laughs, cramming study sessions and birthday sundaes for the community. As St. John’s continues to trek into post-pandemic “normalcy,” the diner will likely be known as what once made St. John’s special.