Home LifestyleCareer Diesel & Duke: A Late-Night Comfort Food Spot in Montclair

Diesel & Duke: A Late-Night Comfort Food Spot in Montclair

by Chris Goodlof
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Once relegated exclusively to food trucks dishing out grease-filled sandwiches, late-night dining has come a long way. Where once there were trucks and the occasional local dive, there is now high-quality, simple late-night food at the ready. Diesel & Duke is one such place – a late-night haven for some of the best burgers, fries, and yes, poutine, available. The Montclair location is one of five of Diesel & Duke’s locations statewide. Read on to learn more about Diesel & Duke’s in Montclair.

Diesel & Duke

(Photo credit: @eatdiesel)

About the Owner

Diesel & Duke

(Photo credit: @eatdiesel)

Owner David Cusumano grew up in hospitality. While Cusumano, 32, went to school for hospitality management, that wasn’t his first introduction to the field. His mother owned the immensely popular Diva Lounge in Montclair in the early 2000s, but Cusumano’s love of hospitality goes back further than that.

Cusumano cites “growing up Italian and being around lots of food and things always being cooked” as being his early introduction to the foodservice, and so he went to school for it.

But school isn’t for everyone, and Cusumano dropped out of his sophomore year of college, jumping feet-first into the restaurant business. 

What Cusumano was learning in school was helpful, but he decided he’d rather just get his hands dirty and learn through experience. And so he did, working all of the various jobs at a restaurant, learning the ropes for himself. 

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“Luckily it’s worked out so far,” said Cusumano, “but [it was] definitely a bumpy road. But through that, I like to say that I taught myself an MBA in the industry.” 

He’d soon find that his feet would be held to the fire with a burgeoning business of his own. 

“I had an opportunity presented to me for our first location,” said Cusumano, “which was in New Brunswick in 2014. It was a smaller spot and I felt like if I didn’t make it, I wasn’t going to lose everything I had by going for it.” 

Diesel & Duke

(Photo credit: @eatdiesel)

A short while later, Cusumano would have five locations of his own. 

“Originally,” said Cusumano, “when we opened in New Brunswick, there wasn’t a clear roadmap to where we are now.”

But Cusumano had an idea with a friend who went to Rutgers: the “grease trucks” were leaving campus because of construction, and there was a void of quality late-night or after-bar food.  Cusumano wanted to seize upon that. Cusumano set out to have a high-quality version of that late-night food while bringing in a new, fresh brand that wasn’t just “everything dropped in a deep fryer and dirty water dogs.” 

Cusumano began offering chicken sandwiches and more but diners gravitated toward his sinful burgers. 

The Menu 

Diesel & Duke

(Photo credit: @eatdiesel)

Diesel & Duke’s menu has been relatively unchanged over the brand’s history, offering high-quality burgers of a dazzling variety.

“People always ask us what differentiates us,” said Cusumano. “I feel like our value for the product is phenomenal, and then also our diversity within having such a simple menu. I really wanted to try to have a burger for everyone.”

Diesel & Duke

(Photo credit: @eatdiesel)

It’s safe to say that there is a burger for everyone: whether you’re into the classic cheeseburger or are feeling adventurous enough to try their Sriracha, Peanut Butter, and Bacon Burger – or perhaps even the “Smokeshow” with bacon, aged cheddar, and BBQ sauce, topped with an absolutely gargantuan onion ring.

“Being a smaller place,” said Cusumano, “it was important to us that everything screamed quality.”

Diesel & Duke

(Photo credit: @eatdiesel)

Diesel & Duke being a burger joint, Cusumano knew hand-cut French fries were important, but one of the locale’s biggest draws is actually the poutine, a Canadian dish with fries, gravy, and cheese curd, among other fun ingredients. 

“It’s one of those things that when you know,” said Cusumano, “you know. When you don’t, and you try it: then you know.” 

While disco fries may be damn near the official meal of New Jersey, once Cusumano tried poutine, he loved it, and he began to think it would really make sense on the menu, but still stand out. Diesel & Duke also offers delicious salads, fried Oreos, and shakes. 

The Affect of COVID-19 

Diesel & Duke

(Photo credit: @eatdiesel)

At the beginning of 2020, with locations in Montclair, New Brunswick, Caldwell, Jersey City, and Princeton – things were looking good. “We had just got done redesigning; we rebranded the company and we had redesigned all five locations.”

The weekend that Diesel & Duke’s Princeton location was set to reopen, the lockdown began. Cusumano kept his locations open for the first few weeks but ultimately closed down for about a month out of an abundance of concern for his employees. Diesel & Duke opened back up after Cusumano felt they could safely continue to do business, following the CDC’s guidelines to the letter. 

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“Through most of it we did pretty well,” said Cusumano. “We’re designed as a takeout and delivery model anyway, so we’re fortunate in that capacity. We didn’t really have to pivot our concept as much as places that had full bars and stuff like that. That really helped us a lot.”

diesel & duke

(Photo credit: @eatdiesel)

While there was a great deal of uncertainty, Cusumano and the company fought through it. Cusumano says they were fortunate and came out in one piece. Diesel & Duke’s business model being what it is, Cusumano was already well-versed in third-party delivery apps like Uber Eats.

“We really appreciate everything and all the support that we received throughout the whole pandemic,” said Cusumano, “It’s great that we’re on the side of it.”

Cusumano is quite excited about the feature, even offering a sneak preview of things to come.  

“New locations are in the works as we speak,” said Cusumano. “We should be announcing something quite soon about our sixth location.” 

Keep up with everything Diesel & Duke on the restaurant’s Instagram at @eatdiesel.


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