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Philly.com: Diner dad gets downtime

Editor’s Note: The following article originally ran on Philly.com on July 29, 2013. Chillin’ Wit’ is a regular feature of the Daily News that spotlights a name in the news away from the job.

Diner dad gets downtime

THUNDERCLOUDS are rolling in, booming off in the distance in Burlington County, but Nick Fifis stays planted in a camping chair in his driveway despite the threat.

Fifis, 40, doesn’t get much time off from his job as co-owner of the most famous diner in South Jersey, Ponzio’s in Cherry Hill, so he takes whatever time he can get with his four kids, rain or not.

“Daddy, look. I made a bubble,” says daughter Gianna, 9, blowing bubbles.

“Cool, honey,” he replies.

It’s about 4 p.m., and Fifis is slowly undoing his tie outside his Medford home. He woke up about 5 a.m. to get to the diner that’s been in his family for nearly 50 years because Sunday mornings are huge there and the forces needed to make breakfast are staggering.

“I have a guy who does nothing but put butter on toast,” he says with a laugh. “I have another guy who does nothing but put home fries on plates.”

Fifis’ wife, Lori, is inside the house making tortellini and meatballs, but he has strict orders to keep out of the kitchen.

“She’s with the kids most of the day, so it’s the least I can do,” he says.

Fifis’ son Niko, 4, rides an electric ATV in their cul-de-sac while Gianna and Alaina, 7, doodle on the driveway with chalk.

He thinks of his own father, Jimmy Fifis, who died in 2007 from lung cancer. In September, Ponzio’s will host a fundraiser with Cooper University Hospital for the Jim Fifis Lung Cancer Research Fund.

“In our last heart-to-heart, my dad asked us to help raise money to fight lung cancer,” he says.

Along with a knack for the diner business, Fifis says he also inherited something else from his father, a weekend hobby that takes away from his golf game: cleaning the garage.

“My dad would never have any time off, but when he did, he’d clean the garage,” he says, walking past an orderly array of bicycles. “Now, I wind up cleaning the garage when I’m off, too.”

– Jason Nark