Growing up in the Boston area, I recall all the various diners we had around thru the 1950′s and 1960′s. Most were built by the local Worcester Lunch Car Company (Worcester, Mass.) as well as more than a few Sterling Diners that were built in nearby Merrimac, Mass. by the J.B. Judkins Company. We also had a handful of Fodero’s, Mountain Views and O’Mahony’s from New Jersey. There were quite a few Brill diners built in Springfield, Mass. for the J.G. Brill Company based in Philadelphia, PA as well as a couple of Valentine diners out of Witchita, KS. I personally was also familiar with Swingle diners (another New Jersey company, 1957-1988) having grown up with two of their diners here, Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car of my hometown of Medford (1961) and the Victoria Diner of Boston (1965). These two diners were the most modern diners in the Greater Boston area.
After starting my documentation of existing diners in the early 1980′s, I made the acquaintance of Richard Gutman, a native of Allentown, PA who had relocated to the Boston area in the early 1970′s after graduating from Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Dick had authored the first real history book on this truly unique type of restaurant known as a diner. The book was titled Amercian Diner (this later was updated to a more comprehensive volume entitled Amercian Diner Then & Now). From reading his book, I learned that the evolution of diners was an on-going process. Basically from the horse-drawn lunch wagons of the late 1800′s to early 1900′s, to the barrel-roofed and monitor-roofed railroad car inspired designs of the 1920′s, 1930′s and early 1940′s as well as the modern stainless steel streamlined diners of the late 1940′s thru the 1950′s. But from the early 1960′s into the early 1980′s the diner manufacturers had drifted away from the traditional “railroad car” styled diners to the larger multi-section diner-restaurants with their more updated Colonial and Mediterranean influenced designs.
I would guess it was from Richard Gutman, that I had heard (not too long after I met him) of a new diner being built by Swingle Diners… the first ever retro-styled diner called The Dining Car of Philadelphia, PA. So in my travels on the diner trail, I planned on someday checking this new old-style diner out. I had heard that Swingle in collaboration with the Morozin family (owners of The Dining Car) had loosely based the design of the new Dining Car on the old Monarch model that the Jerry O’Mahony Dining Car Company had built back in the mid-to-late 1930′s. It featured a metal-sheathed monitor roof, not used since the 1950′s as well as a black enameled body (with the name of the diner lettered on) under the windows. It also included stainless steel trim on the corners of the building as well as the window sills. So it was in the middle of a diner road-trip, July 17, 1984 to be precise that myself and Steve Repucci visited the Swingle Diner factory in Middlesex, NJ. We were given a tour of the plant by Eric Swingle, a nephew of owner Joe Swingle. We met Joe along with his chief designer Joe Montano. I asked Joe Montano about The Dining Car and he actually pulled out the blue prints to show us what it looked like! It wasn’t until July 1, 1985 that we actually set foot in the diner on a subsequent road-trip. We had lunch as I recall and I took quite a few exterior shots of this huge diner (which can be seen here). I found myself at The Dining Car one other time since then…. June 19, 1993 during the Delaware Valley Diner Tour which was part of the Diner Experience, a symposium conducted by the Society for Commercial Archeology. But going through my slide archive, it seems I did not photograph it that time.
To help with some background for this post, I recently spoke with Nancy Morozin, a friend of mine from Facebook who is the current general manager of the diner started by her dad, Joe Morozin Sr. Nancy runs the business along with her brother Joe Jr. and sister Judy. Joe Jr. oversees all back-of-the-house functions while Judy is responsible for the training of all front-of-the-house personnel. The Dining Car story goes back to Joe Sr’s. early days, basically from a teenager on – running various eateries with names such as the GI Inn, and another called the White Way among others. Jump to the year 1961 when Joe was ready for something new and larger, this is when he bought a brand-new Swingle Diner. Nancy describes it as an “L-Shaped” Colonial-styled diner with large windows and hammered copper hood. From the sounds of it, this would have made it a contemporary of Carroll’s Diner in Medford (the one I grew up with). This diner was known as the Torresdale Diner from 1961 – 1976. In 1976, the family updated the diner with a slight renovation that included some new victorian-styled decorations salvaged from an old Atlantic City hotel and decided to change the name to The Dining Car. It operated as such until they approached Swingle Diners about building them the new larger diner in 1981. Contrary to some reports I have read (as well as being mentioned by Nancy), The Dining Car was not the last brand-new diner built by Swingle Diners. I know this for a fact because when I visited the factory in 1984, they were just completing the final sections of the Penny II Diner of Norwalk, CT. Ironically while we were there, they received a phone call that the first two sections of the diner, which had left the factory on the previous day, had arrived on site that morning! Also, according to Mike Engle (co-author of Diners of New York), the Country View Diner of Brunswick, NY was possibly the last diner out of the factory. It was built in 1988 and opened in 1989 as the Stagecoach Inn.
In the late 1980′s Bob Giaimo and Chef Ype Von Hengst of the proposed Silver Diner chain out of the Washington, DC area actually trained at The Dining Car to see how a large upscale diner operated. Giaimo and the Morozins remained friendy since then. In 1989, the Morozins decided they need to do something as the customers queuing up to purchase their baked goods from their in-house bakery were interfering with the other clientele who were attempting to pay for their meals. You see as Nancy explains it, the diner’s bakery is famous for its Apple Walnut Pie, which is similar to a cheesecake, baked in a pie shell with sweet apples folded inside and topped with walnuts rolled in brown sugar and cinnamon. Another popular item is the Jewish Apple Cake which is a European coffee cake baked with apples and cinnamon sugar. The diner received the “Best of Philadelphia” for that. So a new addition was planned to house and sell the baked goods. Looking for advice, Nancy approached Bob Giaimo to consult with as he previously had operated a chain of upscale bakery/cafés (American Café Restaurants). She hoped to get idea’s for the proposed “Market” addition. When all was said and done the new addition was grafted onto the front of the diner’s entryway. It was designed by the noted restaurant designer, Charles Morris Mount who also consulted along with Richard Gutman and Kullman Diners to design the first Silver Diner for Giaimo, located in Rockville, MD. As Nancy went on to tell me…. There are also a few food items that are uber popular that we sell in the “market” which is why she opted to call the new addition a “market” vs a “bakery”.
The diner employs a staff of around 130 and with later additions currently seats 260 patrons. Many of the staff have been working at the diner for years and even decades. This is because the staff is treated like family and the same can be said about the regular customers!
Another interesting story Nancy related to me about the regular customers was when the new diner was installed back in 1981, it was placed on the property adjacent to the old diner. They were basically sitting back to back with a fence between the back walls of both the buildings. Apparently there were a handful of these regular customers who wanted to have the official last meal in the older diner and the first one in the newer diner. So to help facilitate this, an opening was made in the fence between the two diners and the customers in the old diner picked up their plates and coffee cups and proceeded to walk thru the kitchen of that diner, out the back door, thru the opening in the fence and into the back door of the new diner. They went thru that kitchen and into the main part of this diner to finish their meals! What a delightful story, to say the least!
Up until a few years ago The Dining Car was one of a handful of family-run diners that had operated under 2 or 3 generations. There was the Melrose Diner operated by the Kubach family, the Mayfair Diner operated by members of the Morrison, Struhm and Mulholland families as well as the Country Club Diner operated by the Perloff family. Within the last 6 years or so all of those diners with the exception of The Dining Car were bought by Michael Petrogiannis. In fact Nancy says they too were approached by at least two or three parties who were inquiring whether they wanted to sell their diner a number of years ago, but the Morozins were not interested in selling. As far as I’m concerned, I believe I speak for all their regular customers as well as myself when I say that I am glad as well as relieved to know that the Morozin family will continue to operate this long-time Philadelphia institution for many years to come!
More recent view of the left side front elevation of The Dining Car, showing
the 1989 addition of the “Market” off the front of the entryway designed by
the late Charles Morris Mount, photo by Kyle R. Weaver
If you are ever in the Philadelphia area I highly recommend you visit The Dining Car, it is located at 8826 Frankford Avenue. Telephone is 215-338-5113 and you can also check out The Dining Car’s website at… http://www.thediningcar.com/
If you go, tell them Diner Hotline sent you!