Jim’s Lunch Celebrates a Century of Great Grub

Deep in the South Jersey Pinelands, the eatery quietly marks its four-generation family legacy of caring for all who stop by.

Phillip Catlett embraces his mom, Nichole Maul, right, and grandmother Rochelle Maul, who is the great-granddaughter of Jim's Lunch founder, Jim Arnes

Phillip Catlett embraces his mom, Nichole Maul, right, and grandmother Rochelle Maul. Rochelle’s great-grandfather was the luncheonette’s founder, Jim Arnes. Photo by Matt Stanley

On a wintry Wednesday afternoon, Millville, nestled in the pines of Cumberland County south of Vineland, is quiet. But inside Jim’s Lunch, warmth and chatter abound as old friends gather in booths beneath photos showing generations of family ownership. At the register, people chat, waiting for their takeouts. Amid the hubbub, one name stands out.

“How’ve you been, Nikki?”

“See you later, Nikki!”

That would be Nichole Maul, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Peter Gonzalez. Maul’s great-grandfather, Jim Arnes, was just 16 when he left Greece in the 1910s and came through Ellis Island to build a better life. He made his way to Philadelphia, where a restaurant owner took him under his wing and taught him to cook.

By 1923, Arnes had crossed the Delaware River and, with his savings, bought a small building in Millville, where he opened Jim’s Lunch—now celebrating a century of good food and fellowship in one location.

“Why Millville? I have no idea,” says Rochelle Maul, Nichole’s mom, Arnes’s granddaughter and the third-generation owner of Jim’s Lunch. But it’s not hard to figure. At the time, Millville was a thriving glass town, loaded with factory shift workers looking for an affordable place to eat at any hour. Jim lived upstairs, making it easier to run a 24-hour-a-day eatery. “If someone knocked on the door,” says Gonzalez, “he’d come downstairs and make them something.”

Most often, that was a burger, a thin patty with everything—mustard, onions and sauce. Though Jim’s stopped being round-the-clock in the 1960s, the burgers are still served that way; cheese is the one option. Customers won’t get their hands on the original secret sauce recipe, though. “Never, to no one,” says Nichole swiftly when asked if she’s ever shared it.

Cook Dan Lopez prepares an order of the popular roast turkey special at Jim's Lunch in Millville

Cook Dan Lopez prepares an order of the popular roast turkey special. Photo by Matt Stanley

Jim operated October to May, summering in Greece. (Jim’s still closes every year, Memorial Day to Columbus Day.) During Prohibition, Jim was caught making moonshine and went to jail for “a little bit,” Rochelle says—how long, she doesn’t know. But he was known for his generosity—during the Depression, men would bring empty pots to the restaurant, and Jim would fill them with free soup.

“He’d say, ‘Go home and feed your family,’” Rochelle says. “‘When you get back to work, you remember me, and come in and buy some food.’”

That generosity resurfaced in 2020 when Covid-19 hit; Nichole offered free meals to unemployed locals. Jim’s also switched to takeout-only for efficiency. Jim’s survived the pandemic—the restaurant had been through declining customer counts before and knew they’d see the other side. In the 1970s, shutdowns and relocations shifted glass factories out of Millville, and the workers went with them. “That was the biggest hit,” Nichole says.

Despite the periodic struggles, there has always been one overwhelming high: “The customers,” Nichole says. “I mean, that’s what makes Jim’s Lunch what it is.”

The roast turkey special on a table at Jim's Lunch in Millville

The roast turkey special arrives at the table with all the accoutrements. Photo by Matt Stanley

Continuity is the theme. As Rochelle puts it, “I waited on the grandfather, then I waited on the children, then I waited on the grandchildren.

Another thing that doesn’t change is the menu. The same daily specials have been served for decades. One dish that didn’t age well was liver and onions. In Nichole’s words, “People today wouldn’t eat that unless they’re 90.”

In harmony with the time-tested breakfast and lunch menus are prices that seem happily stuck in earlier times. You’ll search a long time for plump, fresh $13 crab cakes or a $24 prime rib. Customers rarely order just one $5 burger or $5.50 chili dog. Pairing either with onion rings or fries for an extra $5? A must.

Nichole has four children, one of whom, Phillip N. Catlett, 26, plans to follow in his mother’s footsteps. “He always would sit here and watch my dad cook,” Nichole says. Jim Maul, Nichole’s father, died in 2019 after running the restaurant with his wife Rochelle for nearly 50 years. Phillip taking over one day “would bring tears to my dad’s eyes.” Phillip’s two sons, 3 and 1, already spend days at Jim’s. “I’ll make sure the business is going for another 100 years,” Phillip says.

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