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Red Lion Diner closing, to be replaced by Wawa: "The business was a victim of COVID"

New Jersey's Red Lion Diner to be replaced with WAWA: "The business was a victim of COVID"
New Jersey's Red Lion Diner to be replaced with WAWA: "The business was a victim of COVID" 02:05

SOUTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) -- It was once dubbed the diner capital of the world but in a sign of the times, another long-time South Jersey diner was sold, catching customers off guard.

Paul Tsiknakis spent Tuesday cleaning and filling a bus pan with napkin holders, and salt and pepper shakers.

The dining room that was always filled with countless conversations now sits shuttered.

"It's a bittersweet moment for me and my family, a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this place," Tsiknakis said.

Tsiknakis bought the Red Lion Diner in Southampton Township, New Jersey, five and a half years ago. However, the restaurant's history goes back five decades.

It was a local landmark and a well-known pitstop for people heading down the shore, located on the circle at Routes 206 and 70.

"We're going to miss the great staff [and] the great customer base that we've had. Ultimately, the business was a victim of COVID," Tsiknakis said.

Tsiknakis said he signed a contractual obligation with a developer during the height of the pandemic when restaurants were forced to close, adding that rising construction costs and interest rates halted his plans to build a new diner.

Tsiknakis said he planned to stay open for 30 days as he slowly cleaned out the restaurant, but attorneys told him that wasn't possible. That's why he said the restaurant was forced to close so abruptly.

"We enjoyed coming here. They always treated us great, so it's kind of sad to see them go," said patron Hank Cruse.

"We're disappointed because there aren't that many places around here," added Kathy Steinberg.

While Tsiknakis said a Wawa is proposed to be built on the site, he's conserving some of the Red Lion Diner's history, like Leo - the 10,000-pound marble lion that once stood out front but has since been sold to a metal company down the street.


"Leo lives on. It's one piece of good that comes out of all this," Tsiknakis said.

Leo will stay in town and the proceeds from the sale have been donated to the United Trooper's Fund.

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