"I had newspapers spread everywhere and we were installing a new credit card machine," he recalled last week. "I wasn't open yet, but this couple comes walking and sit down. I tell them, 'Look folks, we don't open until 3:30.' The guy says he'll see us later, she says they only wanted a cup of coffee, and then they were gone."
The next day, he discovered that Tom Cruise had been out and about in Bayonne looking for coffee. He put two and two together to realize who the couple was who had come to his restaurant. Chris's Corner was only two blocks from the outdoor shooting site for the "War of the Worlds" film.
"If I'd known they didn't want food, I would have put on a pot," he said. "I might even have sat down with them, not even knowing who they were. I'm known to gab."
A short time after apparently leaving Chris' Corner, Tom Cruise, who was scheduled to start filming the new Steven Spielberg film, "War of the Worlds," in Bayonne, showed up at Chez Marie Café 20 blocks uptown - an incident that has since resulted in the café's owner, Maria Folger, being interviewed by The New York Times. Last week, she was even interviewed for NBC's Today Show.
Because Chez Maria is one of the most popular cafes in Bayonne, Tom Cruise - seeking for Espresso - made his way into the store.
Folger, however, wasn't there at the time. She had taken the day off from work. But her husband called to say that Tom Cruise had just walked in and that she should get back to the store as quickly as possible.
"He was driving around looking for a Starbucks, but we don't have any Starbucks in Bayonne," she said. "So when he stopped two police officers, they brought him here."
Cruise ordered four shots of espresso, the preparation of which allowed Marie to get back to the store to meet the mega movie star.
"Certainly, he's the biggest star ever to come in here," she said. "He's Tom Cruise. You can't get bigger than that."
It was a rainy Tuesday with the usual morning collection of Chez Marie customers, most of whom usually gather here to read newspapers or talk while sipping their brew.
"No one was ready for Tom Cruise to walk in like he did," Marie said.
Even though he was accompanied by his usual entourage, body guards and staff people - and a blonde assistant who kept reminding him of his busy schedule - Cruise seemed relaxed and in no hurry to leave. He sat down at one of the tables and talked to people in the store about the movie and how it would differ from the book. "He was a real gentleman," Marie said. "He was a very nice guy."
And though Cruise is gone - the six-day shoot over, most of the sets taken down from the houses along Kennedy Boulevard or transported out of the rented studio space at the former Military Ocean Terminal, Marie and her coffee shop are still the talk of the town - with NBC merely the latest inquirer.
Perhaps the most treasured part of the experience was the photograph Marie had taken with the star.
"Anita from the florist next door ran back and got a camera," she said. "If it wasn't for her we wouldn't have a picture. He asked us if him to pose with us, and we did. We didn't ask; he suggested it."
Now, with the film development and the picture a part of the legend of the store, Marie is seeking to get the picture autographed so that it can join the collection of images from newspapers and magazines that now decorate the wall of the store.
Getting a piece of the movie business
Despite the ill-fortune of possibly turning Tom Cruise away, Crisonino has managed to come out with a piece of the movie industry business.
Some of the carpenters assigned to construct the gas station and other film sets near the Bayonne Bridge for the Spielberg movie came over to Chris' Corner.
"When I heard they were filming, I kept the place open longer," he said. "A friend knew the carpenters and they came over for lunch every day."
Then, he was approached by staff members from The Favor Production LLD, who asked to use one of his dining rooms for a holding area, a place where they could apply makeup to the actors. Their own film, "The Favor," is relatively low-budget but will star a popular soap opera actor and actors who have been involved in various commercials.
"Then they saw one of my rooms here, and asked me if they could shoot a scene here," Phil said. "I agreed."
The film company apparently is using a significant portion of Bayonne as a backdrop to the film, although staff members did not wish to talk about the details yet.
"They're filming for 29 days in Bayonne," Phil said.
Production at Chris' Corner was a one-day shoot from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"I guess they liked what they saw here," Phil said.
Chris' Corner is the oldest establishment of its kind in Bayonne under the same management, Crisonino said.
"We've been here 47 years," he said. "My father started the place in 1958. My wife and I took over operations in 1982. But this business runs in the family. My grandfather started a gin mill on 52nd Street and Bay in 1905."
Some of his family members ran legendary Ditto's, the first Italian restaurant in Bayonne.
Chris' Corner is a family-run place from the start, starting with Terran and Anselmo Crisonino to when Phil and his wife Marie took over. Two of his daughters, two of his sons, his son in law and four of his grand children work there.
"I worked here when I was 10 years old," he said. "I remember hammering down a corner of the roof." But he has also washed dishes before going off to study as a chef, with a slight detour as an Army cook. He even sold hot dogs at Terry's Hat, a hot dog stand his father imported from Lake Hopatcong.
"He named it after my mother. He said he was going to put her name in lights, and he did," Phil laughed. He was still a bit disappointed that he had sent Tom Cruise away in October, though.
"I wouldn't know what he looks like," he said. "I'm a man who watches History Channel, the stock reports, and sports."