Pet peeve time – It truly has always bothered me when people use the term “Greasy Spoon” or “railroad car” in relation to writing about diners….

1st pet peeve – Writers and or reporters referring to Diners as Greasy Spoons

greasy-spoon

Back on March 25, 2020, Jeremy Ebersole – a current Vice President of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) who makes frequent contributions/posts to the SCA Facebook page posted a photo album to that page entitled “Greasy Spoons from sea to shining sea”. Now I had no problem with the photos per se, but I have always bristled at the term “Greasy Spoon”. In fact being a member of the SCA myself since 1981, I was somewhat shocked to see the term used by someone affiliated with the world’s premier organization that deals with documenting and preserving the businesses and sociological aspects of the American Roadside. Especially since the origins of this blog came out of the first ever regular column (Diner Hotline) that was featured in SCA publications.

Because I personally believe the use of this term in regards to Diners is derogatory… shortly after reading the post by Jeremy Eborsole, I decided to hold an informal poll and ask a few people I know and respect, what their feelings are on the use of the term “Greasy Spoon” in reference to diners?

Glenn Wells, diner aficionado, Roadsidefans.com

Glenn-Wells

Glenn Wells: I agree. I think the term is used more by people who dislike diners to put them down, rather than embraced by people who like diners. As you saw I was VERY surprised to see SCA use that term the way they did Also found something I wrote around 2001 on my web site (not updated for a long time) under Diner FAQs: Some people refer to a diner as a “hash house” or a “greasy spoon.” Does this mean the food is bad? Let’s be honest for a minute. If every diner from the beginning of time had been spotlessly clean and served delicious food, such terms never would have entered the vocabulary. Some diners DO serve food deserving of the epithets that some people hurl at ALL diners. But diners are hardly alone in serving sub-par food. Even some very high priced restaurants can turn out some meals that are less than satisfactory. Then, of course, there are the fast food chains, where the fare is more consistent from location to location, but that does not mean that it is good.

Richard J.S. Gutman, preeminent Diner Scholar

Dick-Gutman-2

Richard J.S. Gutman: I hate the phrase! Glad you are doing this. I can’t believe that the SCA used it recently…several times.

Ron Dylewski, diner aficionado, writer,
designer, commercial director and editor

Ron-Dylewski

Ron Dylewski: We often hear people refer to classic diners as “greasy spoons.” To many this might seem like an innocuous term, even a term of endearment. It is perhaps a more visual nickname than simply, diner. It can appear more evocative, denoting a certain je ne sais quoi or an ineffable quality that can’t be captured by simply saying “diner”. But none of that matters. The phrase is pejorative and should be stricken from any journalistic or scholarly writing, unless the phrase is called out for what it is; a slur. Similar names, such as grease pit, hash house and beanery are similarly used to denigrate diners. Writers are often encouraged to spice up their writing by using these terms. It just seems to add flavor to their prose, but in this case the flavor is all off. It actually distracts from the reality of what diners are and were. Now, don’t get me wrong. Not every diner is spic and span and not every one serves wonderful home-cooked meals. But that’s a decisionthat a writer would have to make on a case-by-case basis, not as a blanket statement about all diners.

Bill Katsifis, owner/operator of the East Shore Diner, Harrisburg, PA

Bill-Katsifis

East-Shore-Diner-1
East Shore Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera, January 1, 1985

Bill Katsifis, East Shore Diner: I do think the term greasy spoon is a degrading adjective. Makes it feel dirty. Yes, Greasy spoon, makes a diner/restaurant sound like a less than desirable place to eat. Thanks for the diner work you do….

Alexis Lekkas, owner/operator of Alexis Diner, Troy, NY

Alexis-photo

Alexis1
Alexis Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera, August 8, 2002

Alexis Lekkas, Alexis Diner: I agree with you. Only greasy spoon diners consider that a compliment and there are not many of them. By the way I am still in business even with all the Covid-19 issues…

Alex Panko, former owner of Peter Pank Diner

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Larry Cultrera, Alex Panko and Les Cooper. Alex Panko is
the former owner of the Peter Pank Diner, Sayersville, NJ

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Peter Pank Diner, photo courtesy of Alex Panko

Alex Panko, former owner of Peter Pank Diner: Hey Larry I am with, you, greasy spoon is derogatory. But I would always make a joke and made the people who referred to the diner in that way look stupid if they said that to me. LOL !!!!

Maria Pagelos Wall, co-owner of the Village Diner, Milford, PA

Maria-Wall

Village-Diner-2
Village Diner, photo from Larry Cultrera, November 27, 1981

Maria Pagelos Wall, Village Diner: I don’t like it. To me, it makes it sound like a place is dirty with low quality food.

Michael Engle, diner aficionado/author

Mike-Engle

Michael Engle: I think for anyone who has put the time, passion, energy, and back breaking labor into running their diner or restaurant, that is the last thing they want to hear.  There are a number of people who are so far removed from the food industry. Many of these same people, especially the ones who find a diner “cute,” like they would a puppy, these are the people who are perfectly fine with the term.  They don’t mean any harm by the term.  And these people are validated by the few restaurant owners who adore the term.

Brian Butko, diner aficionado/author

Brian-Butko

Brian Butko: I agree, we’ve always avoided that term. I recall old diner industry mags discussing the term, and always talking about how diners should help themselves by paying attention to details, paving parking lots, lifting the industry, acting like “real restaurants,” that could be a fun angle.

Jeremy Ebersole, current Vice President of
the Society for Commercial Archeology

Jeremy-Ebersole

Jeremy Ebersole: Thanks so much for letting me know, Larry. I certainly didn’t mean to offend. I’ve used the term my whole life and never thought of it as derogatory, and that photo album has been up for years without any negative feedback. However, I certainly do not want to offend or imply that the SCA does not hold diners in the highest esteem. I love diners with every fiber of my being and just had no idea that term was contentious. I’ve been going back through all the old SCA publications and reading them. They’re just so great, and I always really enjoy your column! Please let me know when your blog is published and I will make sure we promote it on the SCA Facebook page!
P.S.: Jeremy changed the title of the post to “Awesome eateries from sea to shining sea”.

2nd pet peeve – Writers and or reporters mentioning railroad cars/trolley cars when writing about Diners

Another thing happened recently which tends to cause me to freak out. In fact it is something that I have been calling out newspaper reporters on for the better part of 40 years. Around the beginning of June, 2020, reports came out of Maine about the resurrection of the Farmington Diner of Farmington, Maine.

A number of years ago (2008), Rachel Jackson decided to embark on a risky adventure and save the Farmington Diner when the land it was on was sold to a national pharmacy chain. She had the diner transported to property she owned a few miles away where it has sat in storage since. Within the last couple of years, Ms. Jackson actually bought another old diner that had operated in Pennsylvania and Connecticut under various names. Her plan was to use parts of each to restore  (the one out of Connecticut) and return it to operation under the Farmington Diner name.

The reporter , Donna M. Perry of the Sun Journal wrote the first recent report I read on the Farmington Diner, kept referring to both diners as railroad cars. I immediately sent off an email to this reporter:

 I just read the piece you wrote on the Farmington Diner. Thanks for the update as I was wondering what was happening up there. I write a blog on diners (www.dinerhotline.com) and have written 2 books for The History Press, (Classic Diners of Massachusetts, 2011) (New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries, 2014). I have been conducting a personal research project on diners since 1980. I have photographed approximately 870 plus diners since November 29th of that year. I just want to point out that writers/journalists like yourself have periodically perpetuated a common misconception that diners are rail cars or trolleys. That is far from accurate. Diners are custom built buildings, usually built by a Diner manufacturer and shipped to a specific (or more than one) location. The diners in question are both Mountain View Diners, manufactured in Singac, New Jersey.

Donna Perry responded to my email and told me she had used railcar diner in her piece because Rachel Jackson thought that it was a commonly used generic term. Perry went on to say that she would amend her online piece to just say diner.

The second report I read was from Maureen Milliken of Maine Business News (www.mainebiz.biz) and I was very happy to see that Ms. Milliken, a seasoned reporter had done her homework. Her piece was well researched and mentioned Mountain View Diners. Not only that, she found a blog post I wrote from 2010 on The Silver Diner of Waterbury CT being closed and in jeopardy, (this became the second diner rescued by Rachel Jackson). The link to my bog post is here… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/tag/the-new-lafayette-diner/
So I immediately wrote Maureen Milliken and thanked her for referring to my blog as well as doing her diligent research.

Just to give a quick primer, here are exterior and interior views of an old Dining Car from the Boston & Maine Railroad…

B&M-RR-Dining-Car-extB&M-RR-Dining-Car-int

That being said, let me say that there were and are still examples of diners that had been created from converted train and trolley cars. Here are a few examples…

Leona-Hillier's-Diner
an old Postcard of Leona Hillier’s Dinette from my collection.
This is a converted railroad car…

The-Club-Car-Restaurant-6
The Club Car Restaurant, a converted railroad car,
located in Nantucket, Massachusetts

Sisson's-Diner-16
exterior view of Sisson’s Diner, a converted trolley located
in South Middleboro, Massachusetts

Sisson's-Diner-12
interior view of Sisson’s Diner, a converted trolley located
in South Middleboro, Massachusetts

Bill-Gates'-Diner-10
exterior view of Bill Gates’ Diner, a converted trolley formerly
located in Bolton Landing, New York

Bill-Gates'-Diner-11
interior view of Bill Gates’ Diner, a converted trolley formerly
located in Bolton Landing, New York

The following photos are examples of factory-built diners that had the railroad car resemblance in their details…

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Chadwick Square Diner, Worcester, Massachusetts

The-Sparky-Diner-2
The Sparky Diner, formerly of Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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The Capitol Diner, Lynn, Massachusetts

Casey's-Diner-15
Casey’s Diner, Natick, Massachusetts (looking like a caboose)

A friend’s recent book launch leads to my first real “Diner” road-trip in many years!

As you may have noticed, this is my first blog post in a while. Again I apologize for the infrequent posts but I have been scanning my collection of 35mm slides and prints, which has consumed a lot of spare time for a few years. The slides are all scanned but the prints take more time. The outcome so far is that the digital archive of Diner photos is growing.

Starting this past June, I have officially “Semi-retired” from my job, working only Tuesday thru Thursday, with 4 day weekends. That being said, an opportunity arose to actually plan a road-trip to New Jersey (which took place at the end of September). Now the last time I was even in the Garden State was just over 21 years ago – in June of 1998 to be exact.

The opportunity that presented itself was the publishing of a new book by my friend Michael Gabriele of Clifton, New Jersey. The book is his 5th book overall published by The History Press and 2nd book about New Jersey Diners. The new book is entitled Stories From New Jersey Diners: Monuments To Community. Gabriele had announced within the last couple of months that he would be having an official book launch at the Nutley (NJ) Museum on the evening of September 27th, a Friday night. This fit in perfectly with my new 4-day weekend schedule. I was actually thinking about keeping it a surprise and just showing up, but immediately nixed that idea, mainly because there were a few people I wanted to see when I got down there. So I let Michael Gabriele in on the possibility of my attending and he was extremely enthusiastic about my proposed plan and encouraged me to make the effort.

At the top of the list of people I wanted to get together with was Donald Kaplan, co-author of the very first book on Diners I ever bought, Diners Of The Northeast! I refer to this book along with Diners by John Baeder and American Diner by Richard J.S. Gutman & Elliott Kaufman as the Holy Trinity of Diner books that came out in the late 1970s and into 1980.

Diners-of-the-Northeast
Cover of the original edition of Diners Of The Northeast, by
Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink, the first “Diner” book that
I purchased circa October, 1980.

American-Diner
The cover sleeve of the original hard cover edition of
American Diner by Richard Gutman & Elliott Kaufman.
The second “Diner” book which I purchased in late 1980.

Diners

The cover of the first edition of Diners by John Baeder.
This is the third “Diner” book I purchased, circa January, 1981.

Even though I may have been aware of the books authored by John Baeder (Diners) and Richard Gutman (American Diner) had been published in 1978 and 1979 respectively, Donald Kaplan and his co-author Alan (now Allyson) Bellink’s book came out around September of 1980 right at the flash point where my diner awareness was just starting to take hold.

I had been a diner aficionado since I was very young and already started taking Sunday morning road-trips with my pal Steve Repucci since late 1979 to discover (or rediscover) diners for Sunday morning breakfasts. Also, I had just purchased my first 35mm camera and the thought was beginning to form in my brain to document these diners that were fast disappearing from the landscape here in New England. I estimate that I purchased Diners Of The Northeast sometime in October of 1980 and it swung the door wide open for the almost 40 year obsession that followed!

I purchased the other books American Diner and Diners within 3 months and had started taking my first tentative photos as well as expanding my already existent post card collection with a “diner category”. Now early in 1981, I had met and become friends with Richard Gutman and about a year later the same happened with John Baeder. But connecting with the co-authors Kaplan & Bellink did not happen until 1996 when I met briefly with Alan Bellink at a diner-related get together. My budding friendship with Donald Kaplan started much later (2010 or so) thru Facebook. Donald, (who lives in the Bronx) and I have become fast friends in the last couple of years. We speak at least once a week. I of course let Donald Kaplan in on my plans for a trip down toward New York and New Jersey.

So as far as the proposed New Jersey road-trip, I convinced my wife Denise that we should do this. Believe me, that is a very hard sell with her. I got reservations at the Hampton Inn in Carlstadt (near the Meadowlands Sports Complex) which put me in a very central location for where I wanted to be. I had called my old friend Arnie Corrado to let him know of my plans. Arnie, who along with his late father Ralph, owned and operated Rosie’s Diner in Little Ferry, NJ until they sold and closed it in 1990. We had lost touch for a number of years until I made the effort about 6 years ago and we have been in constant contact since.

There were other people I planned to meet up with at the event. These people included Les Cooper (from the family that manufactured Silk City Diners), Gloria Nash from Queens, NY (who I actually met within the last couple of months in Massachusetts), Mark Oberndorf ( a painter of vernacular buildings as well as homes, etc.) and Alex Panko (who, with his family owned and operated the Peterpank Diner in Sayreville, New Jersey).

Which brings us to the weekend of September 27 thru 29th of 2019. Denise and I left Saugus around 3:30 AM on Friday (the27th). We made our first stop for coffee and a bathroom break at the Vernon Diner which is located at Exit 65 right off of I-84 southbound in Connecticut. This place is an easy off/on to the highway and is housed in a former Howard Johnson’s Restaurant. The place is nicely done up as a modern diner including a vast display case of baked goods. Unfortunately, it was dark and I did not get photos.

Our next stop was Exit 10 in Newtown, CT. I wanted to get new photos of the Sandy Hook Diner, a small barrel-roofed diner that probably dates to the 1920s. After those photos, we drove back to the nicely redone Blue Colony Diner at the exit to have another coffee and bathroom break. I had photographed both of these diners back in the early 1980s. The Sandy Hook had not changed significantly but the Blue Colony, originally built by Manno Diners had a complete makeover in the last 20 or so years, done by DeRaffele Diner Company.

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The Sandy Hook Diner, Newtown, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

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The Blue Colony Diner, Newtown, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

Continuing on, we got back on I-84 and made it to Exit 2B on the western end of Danbury, before the New York state line. Taking U.S. Route 6 to NY Route 22 in Brewster, NY, we continued driving south to North White Plains. We took I-287 west to Exit 1 in Elmsford and got Route 119 south past the Eldorado Diner to the Saw Mill River Parkway and headed south on that road until it became the Henry Hudson Parkway. We got off at Exit 23 and headed south on Broadway through the Bronx to 231st Street. We continued west on 231st to Tibbett Avenue and south one block to the Tibbett Diner, where we met up with Donald Kaplan.

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The Tibbett Diner, 3033 Tibbett Avenue, Bronx, New York.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

Donald-Kaplan-&-LAC-@-Tibbett-Diner-1a-
Donald Kaplan & Larry Cultrera outside the Tibbett Diner.
Photo by Denise Cultrera, September 27, 2019

After meeting up and spending some time with Donald, he convinced me to head a few miles south on Broadway to take the George Washington Bridge over to New Jersey, instead of going back to the Tappan Zee area and taking the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over to the Garden State. I took his advice and it worked out fine, saving us some time. After crossing the GWB, we headed toward Little Ferry on Route 46 and contacted Arnie Corrado. We made plans to meet at the White Manna Diner in nearby Hackensack. No sooner did I get off the phone with Arnie, Michael Gabriele called to see where we were. I informed him of the White Manna plans and he immediately said he would meet us there…

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The White Manna Diner, 358 River Street, Hackensack, New Jersey.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

Michael-Gabriele_LAC_Arnie-Corrado-@-White-Manna-1a
Michael Gabriele, Larry Cultrera & Arnie Corrado at the White
Manna Diner. Photo by Denise Cultrera, September 27, 2019

Now Michael Gabriele and I have been friends for around 6 years since he contacted me after he contracted to do his first New Jersey diner book for our publisher, The History Press. But until the 27th of September, we had never met face-to-face! At the White Manna, Michael, Arnie and I partook of some wonderful sliders and enjoyed the atmosphere of this fantastically preserved Paramount Diner. Afterward, Michael went home and Denise and I visited with Arnie briefly at his home in Little Ferry before heading to our hotel to check in. After we were settled in our hotel room, we went out and searched for a late lunch and found the Candlewyck Diner in East Rutherford, NJ. The Candlewyck is a circa 1970s vintage Kullman Diner that was renovated on site in recent years and the new look, inside and out represents yet another evolution in diner design!

Candlewyck-Diner-3
The Candlewyck Diner 179 Paterson Street,
East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Photograph by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019.

Stories-from-New-Jersey-Diners-cover
Michael Gabriele’s new book published by The History Press.

So, the major reason to come to New Jersey was to attend the launch of Michael Gabriele’s new book at the Nutley Museum. In fact I was slated to give a short slide presentation along with Michael and the other guest speaker, Les Cooper. It was lucky I had spoken with Michael on the afternoon before the trip. He informed me that the Museum’s laptop computer was on the fritz and wondered if I was bringing my own laptop PC. I of course was bringing it to use to get online, etc when I was at the hotel. So the evening of the book launch we setup with the museum’s large screen TV and fired up Power Point….

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Gloria Nash, Arnie Corrado and Denise Cultrera attending
book launch event at the Nutley Museum. Photo by
Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019.

book-launch-1
Michael Gabriele speaking at the Nutley Museum.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, Spetember 27, 2019.

I also finally got to meet Alex Panko and Les Cooper both of whom I have known for a few years but had never met. Alex was a trip, pretty much the way I expected, he is extremely outgoing (not to mention a little hyper, he drinks an ton of Coca Cola). Les was also pretty much the person I expected, interesting and well spoken.

LAC_Alex-Panko_Les-Cooper
Larry Cultrera, Alex Panko and Les Cooper at the Nutley Museum.
Photo by Denise Cultrera, September 27, 2019

The next morning (Saturday the 28th), Denise and I went to have breakfast at the Bendix Diner on Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights. It was wonderful to see all the neon in working order. The diner itself, a rare Master Diner, is really starting to show its age, both inside and out unfortunately. I shot some photos as the morning light was coming up and then revisited it in the early afternoon to get great daytime shots…

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Bendix Diner, Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.
Early morning photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019

Bendix-Diner-5
Bendix Diner, Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.
Early afternoon photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019

Around mid-morning, Denise and I drove over to Michael Gabriele’s home in Clifton and met his wife Julie as well as one of his sons (sorry Mike, I forgot his name). Then Michael gave us a little tour around the area to let me document some diners that I had not previously photographed. Let me say the light for taking photos this particular weekend was totally perfect and I lucked out. The following places were shot during that little excursion with Michael.

Colonial-Diner-4
The Colonial Diner, 27 Orient Way in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
This is a 1950 vintage Mountain View Diner modified with that
new roof topper and sign, while maintaining the original design.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

Red-Hawk-Diner-3
The Red Hawk Diner located on the campus of
Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

Park-West-Diner-5
The Park West Diner on Route 46. A nicely renovated Kullman
diner, originally known as the Golden Star Diner in the
Woodland Park/Little Falls area.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

Little-Falls-Diner-3
The Little Falls Diner, 11 Paterson Avenue, Little falls, New Jersey.
This place has been closed for many years.

On Sunday morning (the 29th), Denise and I got on the road early and headed north on Route 17. We stopped while it was still dark at the State Line Diner in Mahwah for breakfast! What a great place, I would have loved to get some photos if it were in daylight! We crossed the Hudson on I-287 over the recently completed Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. We reversed our path using the same roads we traveled down on Friday to head back to Connecticut.  On the way up Route 22, we bypassed into Katonah, New York to possibly stop for coffee at the Blue Dolphin Diner. Unfortunately, the diner was not open on Sunday morning and I noticed it is now operating as an upscale bistro. I also noticed the interior was extremely compromised with almost nothing original remaining. Very sad, but at least the outside still looked great.

Blue-Dolphin-Diner-2
The Blue Dolphin Diner, 175 Katonah Avenue, Katonah, New York.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, from September 28, 2019.

Just prior to crossing the state line into Connecticut, we stopped at Bob’s Diner in Brewster. It looks the same as the last time I saw it back in the 1980s with the exception of the paint color on the outside. A nice little downtown diner.

Bob's-Diner-2
Bob’s Diner, 27 Main Street in Brewster, New York.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

Shortly after crossing the state line, I stopped at the Mill Plain Diner (formerly the Windmill Diner) on Mill Plain Road (U.S. Route 6) in Danbury. I remember this diner as having a brick facade with a mansard roof back in the 1980s. Within the last year or so the place had an extreme makeover, inside and out by DeRaffele Diners and looks fantastic. I heard it is now owned by the same people who have the Blue Colony Diner in Newtown.

Mill-Plain-Diner-2
The Mill Plain Diner, 14 Mill Plain Road in Danbury, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, Spetmeber 28, 2019.

To finish off this early fall road-trip, we made one last stop in Connecticut before making it back into Massachusetts. We got off the highway briefly in East Hartford and I revisited a diner I had eaten in back in the 1980s, but never photographed. It has been on my bucket list for a while and I finally got my photos. The AAA Diner is a 1970s vintage brick diner with mansard roof that on the outside still looks similar to the way I remember it. The interior has gotten an update and is now bright and airy….

AAA-Diner-3
The AAA Diner, 1209 Main Street in East Hartford, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 25, 2019.

As I stated earlier, the weather could not have cooperated more than it did for this long-awaited interstate road-trip and I was extremely happy to get the photos I did, as well as meet new friends and reconnect with old friends. I will follow up soon with a review of Michael Gabriele’s book in the near future!