Worcester, Massachusetts’ Corner Lunch Diner origins uncovered

I have been documenting Diners with my photos for over 40 years now and every now and then a piece of the vast puzzle of American Diner history finally shows up and fills in a blank. Especially since the advent of social media and Facebook in general, the amount of information has increased and the legions of Diner aficionados that have come out of the woodwork or in this case, the world wide web have helped considerably!

Worcester, Massachusetts historically is the birthplace of diner manufacturing with people such as Samuel Messer Jones, Charles H. Palmer and Thomas H. Buckley building horse-drawn lunch wagons from the 1870s into the early 1900s. Buckley’s concern gave way to the Worcester Lunch Car And Carriage Manufacturing Company in the early 1900s and Worcester Lunch Car continued until the late 1950s when they built their last diner. The company’s assets were auctioned in May of 1961, thus ending diner manufacturing in that city. But years before that happened, Worcester Lunch Car was finding it hard to compete with the other manufacturers in New York and New Jersey. This was evidenced with the fact that some local diner owners ended up upgrading to larger more modern diners out of the mid-Atlantic region.

In fact, the City of Worcester had received at least two Jerry O’Mahony Diners, Messier’s Diner and the nearby Kenmore Diner, more than likely in the 1940s. Another non-Worcester built diner, the Corner Lunch Diner showed up in the city circa 1967. Even though this diner was delivered a few years after the Worcester Lunch Car Company closed up, the Corner Lunch was a slap in the face – being relocated almost across the street from the former Worcester Lunch Car factory!

my first photo of the Corner Lunch from February, 1981
A close-up view of the Corner Lunch. Photo by Larry Cultrera, July, 1983

Now granted, the Corner Lunch was a used/reconditioned diner originally built by DeRaffele Diners out of New Rochelle, New York. I am not sure when I first heard that this diner was originally located on Long Island, NY prior to be taken in on trade by Musi Dining Car Company, but I will say that I had probably known this for two or three decades now. What we did not know was what its original operating name and location was. Until two years ago that is!

The maker’s tag placed over the entrance to the kitchen by Musi Dining Car Co.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019

Back on July 9, 2019, a guy named Chris Barbuschak posted three black and white photos he came across in his research on the Dinerville Facebook page. The first photo was an exterior of a diner called the O-Co-Nee Grill. The other two photos Chris said were unidentified but I knew right away they were interior views of the same diner! I also figured out that this was the original location of the Corner Lunch before it came to Worcester. Right after I saw these photos, a Post Card came up for Auction on Ebay and I got it! As I suspected the diner was much longer when originally built by DeRaffele circa 1950 or so. The front elevation had a large entryway centered on that wall and flanked by five windows and a curved corner window on each side.

Exterior photo of the O-Co-Nee Grill, Bay Shore, Long Island. Photo courtesy of the
New York ABC Board provided by Chris Barbuschak
First interior photo of the O-Co-Nee Grill, notice the “compass” pattern in the terrazzo floor between the 2nd and 3rd coat racks on the ends of the 2 booth benches. This was a huge clue….. Photo courtesy of the New York ABC Board provided by Chris Barbuschak
Second interior photo of the O-Co-Nee Grill. Photo courtesy of the
New York ABC Board provided by Chris Barbuschak
interior view showing the “compass” graphic in the terrazzo floor of the Corner Lunch.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019
Post Card from my collection of the O-Co-Nee Grill.
back of the Post Card of the O-Co-Nee Grill….

I immediately got in touch with Chris thru Facebook by sending him a Friend Request and told him those photos cleared up a mystery and how important they were. Chris got back to me and said… Hi Larry, it’s an honor to be friend requested by you. As a diner enthusiast, I’ve been following your amazing blog for years. I’m thrilled to have been of some assistance to the O-Co-Nee Grill/Corner Lunch puzzle. You are more than welcome to use the photos. They’re probably public domain anyways since the New York ABC Board had them photographed. Looking forward to seeing the new photos of the Corner Lunch that you’ll take!

I told him that the biggest change to the diner when it got to Worcester was to the left end, possibly 10 to 15 feet or so were chopped off of both the front diner section and the factory-built kitchen section so the diner could fit on the property at its new location in Worcester. Also, the original entryway did not make the move to Worcester.

Here is the left side of the diner after it was altered by Musi.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, March, 1983

They actually put the stainless steel and enamel stripes on the redone side wall of the front section to make it look more finished. The back section just got a plain metal clad exterior covering. The interior was also finished off very professionally by Musi and one would never know that this diner was a dozen or more feet longer at one time.

An interior photo by Larry Cultrera, March, 1983
another interior photo by Larry Cultrera, March, 1983

Over the years, the diner has not changed much on the inside as this next photo will show. Seen in this shot is my wife Denise, sitting at the counter and Charlie Boukalis the current owner at the grill. Charlie and his daughter Joanna (aka JoJo, seen in the background behind the counter) have been operating the diner for 18 years at this point in 2021.

Interior photo by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019.

The exterior of the diner is showing some wear and tear after over 70 years of service but hopefully will continue to serve the people of Worcester as well as diner lovers from New England and beyond for many years to come…

Exterior view of the Corner Lunch Diner by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019
Exterior view of the Corner Lunch Diner by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019