Hector’s: The Little Diner That Could

By Anthony Paradiso

HECTOR’S CAFE AND DINER has stood at the corner of Little West 12th and Washington
Streets since 1949—and it’s under the High Line. Photo by Anthony Paradiso

Hector’s is a square brick building like the house my father grew up in. Not too pretty, but full of character. You walk down the street and the first thing you see is a yellow sign above the diner’s entrance with “Hector’s” in red lettering and “Cafe and Diner Est. 1949” in black letters below that.

I came to deliver a stack of Village View newspapers to Hector’s. A strapping man stood behind the counter and when I told him I was a journalist and writing a fun piece about his establishment, he gave me a jovial quote, “You see that behind the counter? Candy and cigarettes. That’s something you’d see in the 70s and 80s. We’re an oldie but a goodie!”

Behind the cash register sat a guy who said his name was Freddy Manjarrez. He has worked there since 1994. Freddy referred to the gentrification of the Meatpacking District which involved fashion designer clothing shops like Diane von Furstenberg as well as tourist establishments like The Standard, High Line Hotel which sits one block north on Washington Street.

I later called upon the diner on a Friday afternoon, managing to squeeze an eight-minute interview out of Freddy who was busy with customers. It turns out there are actually three owners: Danny, Nick and Freddy Manjarrez.

“Wait,” I asked, “are you one of the owners?” I was surprised when he said “yes” because I’d been thinking he was “just” the cashier. I reminded myself “don’t judge a book by its cover” because this man is a boss! Manjarrez mentioned he had been hired by Danny Manesis—the oldest of the ownership group who bought Hector’s 35 years ago in 1988.

THE ALWAYS-ALERT COUNTER SERVER makes sure Hector’s runs on time, and he’s good for a witticism like baseball hall of famer Yogi Berra used to give. Photo by Anthony Paradiso.

The gentrification of the Meatpacking District began three decades ago but it could not make Hector’s Diner give up and shut down. Just three years ago, the COVID pandemic began and forced tons of small businesses like Hector’s to shutter–but it didn’t kick this old authentic diner out of the neighborhood. Even after a Samsung store opened across the street and a Shake Shack on Washington Street, Hector’s has survived partly because it is a more affordable option compared to the chain burger restaurant with much faster service.

Getting down to business I asked him about the menu and prices at Hector’s and Freddy answered, “We have the cheapest prices. We get customers from the Standard Hotel who say they pay $15 here while over there it’s $40-50 for the same thing.”

Hector’s menu doesn’t offer a crème brulé but it offers diner food–eggs with potatoes and coffee for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and classic items like meatloaf and hamburgers (This is the Meatpacking District!). A Yelp review pointed out that their steak tacos are definitely worth trying.

The story of Hector’s diner is one of survival—how the diner’s three dedicated owners have worked hard to keep a 74-year-old business open in a gentrified neighborhood. I have a feeling that even in 2030 when a store selling Virtual Reality video games opens up, Hector’s will still be there, chugging along as the little diner that could.