Rindge, NH’s Hometown Diner opens

Back in June I wrote about a diner being relocated to Rindge, NH from Ohio by way of Kentucky.  This was the Hometown Diner a 1949 (Silk City No. 4931) Which had been restored by Steve Harwin’s Diversified Diners out of Cleveland, OH.
You can read that post here…. https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/new-home-for-hometown-diner/.  I revisited the diner on Labor Day weekend to see what progress had been made and there were close to a dozen workmen swarming the place to get it ready for opening.

Hometown Diner being worked on – August 30, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Well I am happy to announce that the diner finally opened on October 4th and by all accounts, the place has been swamped with large amount of customers since the opening! I received an email from Bob Higgins this past Friday relating his experience and he gave it a very good review.  Denise and I took a ride this Sunday to have breakfast there. It was a little foggy driving out and the first photo will show a little of that…..

Hometown Diner, now open…. October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Owner Tim Halliday was able to get a seasoned food service professional, Bonita “Bonnie” Rosengrant to operate the new diner. They hired a crew of locals as waitstaff who all seem pleasant and efficient.

Interior of Hometown Diner before the Sunday crowds showed up.
October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Interior of add-on dining room looking toward the diner. Notice the newly installed green and black ceramic tile that was installed on the wall to match the diner’s tile work. October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Interior of add-on dining room looking from the diner. Restrooms are down that hallway. October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hometown Diner in the emerging sun light after breakfast.
October 13, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

As is usually the case, things have not gone smoothly as the crew was having problems keeping up with the crowds in the first days of operation. I understand that the kitchen needs to be reconfigured to facilitate better work flow as the initial week of operation has uncovered flaws with the original layout. So the diner is closed today (Tuesday the 15th) and the contractors will be working furiously to rearrange the layout and hopefully have it open by tomorrow. The food we had was delicious and with the serving staff getting use to the operation, service will certainly improve. It seems like people are flocking to the diner and I hope that Bonnie Rosengrant and her crew have a  nice long run with the Hometown Diner!

New home for Hometown Diner

The Silver Diner Restaurant not showing too much silver (stainless steel)
Note that the sign says “Trailer For Sale” (I hate when people refer to diners
as trailers!) photo courtesy of Steve Harwin & Diversified Diners

Once upon a time there was a place called the Silver Diner located in London, Kentucky. This was a 1947 Silk City Diner built by the Paterson Vehicle Company of Paterson, NJ (actually, it turns out it is a 1949 vintage No. 4931). The Silver diner was a little worse for wear when it closed at the end of 2005. Steve Harwin of Cleveland, Ohio’s Diversified Diners heard about the closed diner and that it was available. Steve went down to Kentucky to inspect the diner and here is his description of what he found…..

It had a front entrance and a side entrance but the vestibule was missing. There were two doors leading out the back of the diner, a center door for the access to an annex kitchen and the door on the right side leading into additional seating area and rest rooms.

Steve also told me in a recent phone conversation that 90% of the original stainless steel facade had been stripped off when the T-111 wooden paneling was added to the facade, (as the photos show). Also, another roof had been built that incorporated the diner with the attached building. Only the stainless steel trim around the windows and the corner pieces were left intact from the diners original facade. When Harwin decided to obtain the diner, he got a crew together to extract it from the remaining structure and remove it from its site for transport back to Cleveland.

The Silver Diner in process of being extracted from the attached building.
photo courtesy of Steve Harwin & Diversified Diners

Interior view of the Silver Diner shows that a huge amount of originality existed on the inside as compared to the outside.
photo courtesy of Steve Harwin & Diversified Diners

Another interior view of the Silver Diner.
photo courtesy of Steve Harwin & Diversified Diners

As Steve Harwin goes on to say….  The diner was configured by the factory to seat 52 but we modified it slightly to allow for more spacious seating and ADA accessibility.  It measures approximately 40 foot long by 15 foot wide. It took 8 months to restore the diner for new owner Matthias Kaplanow.

Steve told me this restoration was a challenge for him. Even though he had restored quite a few Silk City Diners, all of those previous diners had porcelain enameled steel panels and not the stainless steel panels that these slightly newer models had. To assist in the restoration he traveled to Meriden, CT and took numerous photos of  the former New Palace Diner now operating as Cassidy’s Diner, which was a similar model. The photos helped him replicate the stainless steel panels that he then had to figure out how to install properly. The restoration of this was completed in 2010 and Steve was justifiably proud of the outcome. The diner was then moved to Ottawa, Ohio where Kaplanow, a German national had some property. He opened the establishment as the Hometown Diner.

Front elevation of the Hometown Diner after installation in Ottawa, OH
photo courtesy of Steve Harwin & Diversified Diners

Side elevation of the Hometown Diner after installation in Ottawa, OH
This shows the kitchen and dining room addition with matching stainless
steel facade. photo courtesy of Steve Harwin & Diversified Diners

Interior view of the Hometown Diner after installation in Ottawa, OH
photo courtesy of Steve Harwin & Diversified Diners

Unfortunately, Matt Kaplanow was under the mistaken impression that he could run the diner from his home in Germany. This arrangement did not work out and the diner was closed in 2012. Around this same time ironically  I received an email from Evie Goodspeed, (on July 10, 2012 to be exact). Evie works for Tim Halliday, the owner of 202 Truck & Equipment located in Rindge, NH. She told me in this email that they had been looking for the past year for a Diner for sale and have not had much luck. In Evie’s email to me, she basically wanted to know if I was aware of any diners in the Northeast that might be for sale. She went on to say…. we have the ability to move a diner ourselves. Any info you might have would be great.

I got back to Evie and suggested she get in touch with Dave Pritchard of Salisbury, Mass. who had 2 or 3 diners possibly for sale. She immediately answered that they had known about Dave and already checked out what diners he had, basically deciding the diners did not meet their requirements. I also told Evie about Steve Harwin and she immediately said that they had actually been in contact with Steve but communication was moving very slowly. In fact Steve ultimately told them he did not have a diner at that point in time available for sale.

So I then mentioned the former Forbes Diner in New Haven, CT which off the top of my head was the only other one I could think of at that time that was available and ready to move.  I gave her whatever contact info I had for that diner and Tim immediately decided to go down to inspect it the next day, ultimately deciding that that particular diner needed too much work. I did not hear from Evie or Tim again after that. It seems their luck would change not too long after this when Steve Harwin called to let them know of the availability of the closed Hometown Diner.

Fast forward to about a month ago…. I read online that a new diner was coming to Rindge, NH. I started reading the piece and then the light bulb went off…. I know who this is and what diner they are buying! I immediately got on the phone and talked with Evie. I said to her (without identifying myself), I see you people got the diner you were looking for! She laughed and I then identified myself and she said they had mentioned my name within the last few days and were going to let me know about the news…. but I beat them to it.

The diner was moved from Ohio to New Hampshire shortly after I spoke with Evie in early June.  Denise and I decided to take a ride this past Sunday to take a look at the diner which was reportedly already installed on a foundation at its new location, the intersection of U.S. Rte. 202 and State Rte. 119. It was a beautiful day for the ride and I was able to take quite a few great photos of the diner ….

Hometown Diner at its new location in New Hampshire
June 9, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hometown Diner at its new location in New Hampshire
June 9, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hometown Diner at its new location in New Hampshire
June 9, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hometown Diner at its new location in New Hampshire
June 9, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Interior photo of the Hometown Diner, June 9, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Looks like I can still rock these thru-the-window interior shots – Thanks
Dick Gutman!!!!!

Hometown Diner at its new location in New Hampshire
June 9, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

I tried to get in touch with Tim before I took the ride out to Rindge. I actually spoke to his wife Anne who told me to stop by the 202 Truck & Equipment business as Tim would be there. I did stop but the place seemed closed and no one was there. I called Tim’s house and again spoke with Anne after I got back. I asked her about the entryway and other pieces of the diner. She told me they were in a storage trailer along with that great neon sign it had in Ottawa, OH. So, I did not get a chance to meet Tim or Evie on this trip as it was sort of spur of the moment, but that will come in the future! I did eventually speak with Tim the next morning and he told me that he hopes to have the diner up and running by September. He will not be operating it himself but is in negotiations with interested people who are very experienced in running a food establishment. I certainly will be keeping tabs on this and will update the progress as well as hope to be there when the diner opens!

A tale of 2 Twins (Diners, that is)

Twin Bridge Diner, AKA Rosie’s Diner

Back in the early days of diner hunting I was down in the Groton, Connecticut area one day (July 10, 1983 to be specific) when I stumbled upon the Twin Bridge Diner, another later model Silk City diner very similar to Norm’s Diner also of Groton. I had already documented Norm’s on an earlier excursion the previous year (Sept. 18, 1982). The Twin Bridge Diner seemed to be doing a great business that day and I got the best photos I could considering all the vehicles parked around  the building.

I was coming out of the parking lot of the Twin Bridge Diner when I saw this across the side street from the diner. I could not resist taking this photo!
July 10, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Twin Bridge Diner, Groton, CT – July 10, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Twin Bridge Diner, Groton, CT – July 10, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Twin Bridge Diner, Groton, CT – July 10, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

By 1988 or so, this diner changed owners as well as names becoming Rosie’s Diner and continued to operate until September of 2005. The owners decided to replace this diner with a brand-new diner built by Mike Risko’s Classic Diners out of Michigan (thanks to Mike Engle for clearing that up) and renamed the new place the “Oh Boy Diner”. Incidently, the new diner did not fare so well and closed within a fairly short time. I just read that 5 Guys Burgers & Fries were slated to take over the building as of April of 2011.

Meanwhile, the old diner was bought by Steve Harwin of Diversified Diners and was transported to his property in Cleveland, OH. Steve’s plan, as always was to eventually find a buyer who wanted a 1950’s vintage modern stainless-steel diner. When the prospective buyer would come forward, then Steve would have his team of workers do some needed updating and restoration/rehabbing prior to the new owners taking delivery of the diner.

Well fairly recently (late 2011) those new owners came into the picture. That would be Jeff and Vonnie Castree of Baraboo, Wisconsin. They are naming the new restaurant the Broadway Diner. Steve Harwin sent some photos along a couple of weeks ago showing the diner starting the trek from Cleveland to Baraboo in mid-April, 2012 …..

The former Rosie’s Diner/Twin Bridge Diner moving from Cleveland to Baraboo, WI to become the Broadway Diner.
April 2012 photo by Steve Harwin

The former Rosie’s Diner/Twin Bridge Diner moving from Cleveland to Baraboo, WI to become the Broadway Diner.
April 2012 photo by Steve Harwin

Interior of the soon to be Broadway Diner of Baraboo, WI
April, 2012 photo by Steve Harwin

I wish Jeff and Vonnie Castree good luck with their new endeavor!

Twin Diner, AKA Spicy’s Bar-B-Que

I first knew of the Twin Diner of Riverhead, Long Island from a John Baeder painting. The Twin Diner was apparently two 1920’s vintage barrel roof diners that were placed side-by-side, end-wise to the street. John’s painting was actually of an interesting detail that was part of the linoleum tiled floor on the inside of the left-hand section of the diner. It was a cool little graphic, (almost primitive) showing as John put it…. “the little frivolous chef dancing the diner boogie”!

Scanned with permission from Page 82 of John Baeder’s book “Diners”

Well on one of my early trips to document diners on Long Island (September 22, 1984), you can be sure I wanted to see if the Twin Diner was still there. It actually was….. sort of. It had become Spicy’s Bar-B-Que and was not actually operating as a diner. The right-hand side had what was left of the counter, now sans stools and being used as a serving counter. The left-hand side was now exclusively the dining area with chairs and tables.

Interior of right-hand side of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island
September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

Interior of left-hand side of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island,
notice the inlaid graphics in the linoleum. Unfortunately, our little chef was missing! September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

This configuration of 2 diners being attached has been termed a “Diner graft” and interestingly, it seems Kullman Diners came in circa the 1950’s and modernized the 2 1920’s vintage diners. This was done primarily by “wrapping” the street ends of both diners in a new stainless-steel facade making the the 2 diners look like one new diner as seen in this photo below.

Front view of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island
September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

Side view of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island. Here you can see the back section of the untouched left-hand barrel roof structure.
September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

Back view of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island. Here you can see the 2 side-by-side diners. They actually have been extended back from the original cars. September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

Recently I have heard from a friend of John Baeder by the name of Susan Walter. She contacted me to let me know of an Ebay auction she had of an old snapshot of the Twin Diner. I decided to bid on it and did actually get it. Below is the actual snapshot the way it looks, with blemishes and all….

Here is the same photo with some enhancement and cleaning up in photoshop…..

Bel-Aire Diner, 1952 – 2012, Goodbye old friend!

Regular readers of Diner Hotline know that I have been following the saga of the Bel-Aire Diner of Peabody, Mass. for quite a while.  This diner was one of the closest to where I live, located about 4 miles north of Saugus on U.S. Route 1. Built by the Mountain View Diner Company (Car No. 359), it was bought brand-new in 1952 by brothers Peter & Bill Kallas, the diner remained being operated by members of the Kallas family until it closed abruptly around a half dozen years ago. Immediately after it closed it had two bright yellow banners that stated “Closed for Renovation” hanging from the front on either side of the entryway. Somehow though, I had a strong feeling that it would probably never reopen.

front of Bel-Aire Diner Breakfast Menu, circa 1980’s. From the
collection of Larry Cultrera

back of Bel-Aire Diner Breakfast Menu, circa 1980’s. From the
collection of Larry Cultrera

Prior to the diner being closed there had been reports that the Kallas family had been talking about redeveloping the site for quite some time. At one point, they were hoping to lease the property for a Hooters Restaurant but the City of Peabody was not willing to go along with those plans. Then within a few years of the diner’s closing, a large poster type sign was hung on the sign supports for the adjacent Gas Station (also owned by the Kallas’). The poster depicted a large building that would be built to house businesses related to the truck stop, including the diner and gas station. The new building was to be built around and over the diner (only the diner’s front facade was to be visible).

See…… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/notes-from-the-hotline-4-10-2010/

Before the plans were put into motion it was announced that the tenant for the restaurant portion of the new development was going to be the people who operate Red’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Salem. The new restaurant was to be called Red’s Kitchen and Tavern. About this time, I saw newly revised architectural drawings of the building and it looked different. The biggest difference was that the diner did not seem to be included anymore, an ominous sign to be sure!

See…… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/bel-aire-diner-to-become-reds-kitchen-tavern/

the earliest known postcard image of the Bel-Aire Diner. From the
collection of Larry Cultrera

The second version of a Bel-Aire Diner postcard, it had aquirred awnings and the sign colors were changed. From the collection of Larry Cultrera

Soon there after, the diner was readied to be moved out of the way for the developers to start on the project, see……. https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/notes-from-the-hotline-8-28-2010/

and…. https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/bel-aire-diner-goes-airborne/

It was also announced that the diner was For Sale, see….

The diner stayed up on cribbing in the front of the property all thru the winter of 2010-11. See…….


In March of 2011 it was relocated to the extreme right corner at the back of the property. John Kallas was still hoping to sell the diner at this point.
See…… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/new-storage-spot-for-bel-aire-diner/

photo on the back cover of a vinyl E.P. by The Peter Calo Band (a local band). circa 1983. The photo was shot with the band members sitting in the corner booth of the Bel-Aire Diner. From the collection of Larry Cultrera

As I just happen to drive by the diner 1 to 2 times a day during a normal work week (Monday thru Friday), I have been able to keep an eye on the situation. I also keep informed thru Google news alerts ( for Diners) and of course rely on the unofficial network of “Diner people” for tidbits, etc. In a recent news article, John Kallas was quoted as saying that if there were no buyers for the diner come springtime, he would make the decision to have the diner scrapped. Within the last 2 weeks, it was reported that  John Kallas was quoted as stating that if anyone wanted the diner, he was willing to give it away to anyone who would arrange to remove it from the property.

This news really meant it was nearing the end for the old stainless steel diner! Steve Harwin of Diversified Diners (Cleveland, Ohio), who in my opinion is the premier diner restorationist in the world, had been apprised of the situation and contacted Kallas. After a short conversation or 2 between Kallas and Harwin, as well as a little soul searching and some number crunching, Harwin decided he could not make the commitment to save this one unfortunately.

These next few photos are pretty much my earliest images that I shot of the Bel-Aire Diner……..

January, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

January, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

January, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

September, 1982 photo (at sunset) by Larry Cultrera

This next photo was shot circa 1990 by my buddy, Steve Repucci. I wanted some photos taken of me for a Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) publication and this was one of those photos…..

man, what a difference 22 years make!

As I drove by the Bel-Aire on this past Monday after work, things looked pretty much the same, but by Tuesday afternoon it was a completely different story! Just as I was approaching the diner,  I glanced over at it and saw a dumpster as well as the left end of the diner already dismantled! I knew that this was it, the diner was pretty much history.

I was on my way home as my wife Denise and I had an appointment to meet a tradesman about some work we were planning on having done, so I knew I could not get my camera and go back for some photos. I did bring my camera to work with me the next day and was planning on getting over to the diner possibly at lunch to see if I could get some photos. I decided to see what was up and stopped at approximately 5:40 AM. I was able to pull right up almost to the fence that surrounded the diner and shine my high beam headlights on the what was left of the structure. It was demo’d back from the left end by a couple of windows as the next 3 images will show…..

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

Once I had seen how much was gone, I made the decision to get back sooner than lunch break to get more photos in daylight as I figured if I waited longer, there would not be anything left. I got back to the diner just before 9:00 AM and took the next bunch of shots…..

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

That is Doug Earp, owner of D.R. Earp Interior Demolition Co.
March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

Richard Currie of RC Recycling of Brentwood Inc. speaking with Doug Earp.
March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

Final shot before I went back to work.
March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

Before I left work for the day, I checked Facebook and saw that Gary Thomas had been by the site and the photo he posted showed the very last section of the diner (a small section of roof from the right end) left to be crunched and tossed into the dumpster. By the way, there were at least 3 dumpsters full of debris! I drove by just after 3:30 PM and there was nothing left of the old diner!

Well I can say I have had many a meal there over the last 30 years and I believe it is a shame that no one could have saved this diner so it could have possibly had another life at a different location. I am sure I will probably check out Red’s Kitchen and Tavern when they open for business in the near future, but I know it just won’t be the same!

Notes from the Hotline, 6-26-2010

A Great article on Richard Gutman
from Smithsonian Magazine online

This 1956 photograph was taken during the short time that two Nite Owls sat cheek-by-jowl in Fall River, MA. Soon the old lunch wagon was carted away and demolished, replaced by the gleaming diner built by the DeRaffele Company of New Rochelle, NY. Collection of Richard J.S. Gutman

A Life Devoted to the American Diner

With a career spent chronicling the best of American diners, curator Richard Gutman knows what makes a great greasy spoon

  • By Sarah Saffian
  • Smithsonian.com, June 15, 2010

 What Jane Goodall is to chimpanzees and David McCullough is to John Adams, Richard Gutman is to diners. “I was interviewed for a New Yorker article about diners when I was 23 years old,” he says over a meal at the Modern Diner (est. 1941) in downtown Pawtucket, Rhode Island, one recent sunny Monday. “And now, almost 40 years later, I’m still talking about diners.” He’s gradually grown into the lofty title “important architectural historian of the diner” that George Trow sardonically bestowed on him in that 1972 “Talk of the Town” piece, progressing from graduate of Cornell’s architecture school to movie consultant on Barry Levinson’s Diner and Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo and author of American Diner: Then and Now and other books. But his enthusiasm for his subject remains as fresh as a slab of virtue (diner lingo for cherry pie).

Richard J.S. Gutman, diner scholar.
Culinary Arts Museum, photo by Steven Spencer

 Gutman leaps out of the booth—he’s compact and spry, surprising in someone who’s spent decades not just talking about diners, but eating in them—to count the number of seats in the Modern (52). Weighing the classic diner conundrum—“should I have breakfast or lunch?” he asks the grease-and-coffee-scented air—he boldly orders one of the more exotic daily specials, a fresh fruit and mascarpone crepe, garnished with a purple orchid. Before taking the first bite, like saying grace, he snaps a photograph of the dish to add to the collection of more than 14,000 diner-related images archived on his computer. He tells me that his own kitchen, at the house in Boston where he’s lived with his family for 30 years, is designed diner-style, with an authentic marble countertop, three stools and a menu board all salvaged from a 1940s Michigan diner, along with a 1930s neon “LUNCH” sign purchased from a local antique store. “Nobody has a kitchen like this,” Gutman half-confesses, half-boasts over the midday clatter of dishes and silverware. “Nobody.”

Richard Gutman’s dinerized kitchen, Boston, MA.
Photo by Richard J.S. Gutman

We finish our breakfast/lunch—I highly recommend the Modern’s raisin challah French toast with a side of crispy bacon—and head to Johnson & Wales University’s Culinary Arts Museum in Providence, where Gutman has been the director and curator since 2005. The museum hosts more than 300,000 items, a library of 60,000 volumes and a 25,000-square-foot gallery, featuring a reconstructed 1800s stagecoach tavern, a country fair display, a chronology of the stove, memorabilia from White House dinners and more. But it’s the 4,000-square-foot exhibit, “Diners: Still Cookin’ in the 21st Century,” that is Gutman’s labor of love. Indeed, 250 items come from his own personal collection—archival photographs of streamlined stainless steel diners and the visionaries who designed them, their handwritten notes and floor plans, classic heavy white mugs from the Depression-era Hotel Diner in Worcester, Massachusetts, 77-year-old lunch wagon wheels, a 1946 cashier’s booth. “It’s just one slice of the food service business that we interpret here,” Gutman likes to say, but the diner exhibit is clearly the museum’s highlight.

When lunch wagons moved off the streets, they grew in size and menu and stayed open 24 hours. This diner was built by Jerry O’Mahony, Inc. around 1918 and operated in Paterson, NJ. Collection of Richard J.S. Gutman

This is fitting, since the history of the diner began, after all, right here in Providence—with a horse-drawn wagon, a menu and, as they say, a dream. In 1872, an enterprising man named Walter Scott introduced the first “night lunch wagon.” Coming out at dusk, the lunch wagons would pick up business after restaurants closed, serving workers on the late shift, newspapermen, theatergoers, anyone out and about after dark and hungry for an inexpensive hot meal. A fellow would get his food from the wagon’s window and eat sitting on the curb. Gaining popularity, the lunch wagons evolved into “rolling restaurants,” with a few seats added within, first by Samuel Jones in 1887. Folks soon started referring to them as “lunch cars,” which then became the more genteel-sounding “dining cars,” which was then, around 1924, shortened to the moniker “diner.”

One distinction between a diner and a coffee shop is that the former is traditionally factory-built and transported to its location, rather than constructed on-site. The first stationary lunch car, circa 1913, was made by Jerry O’Mahony, founder of one of the first of a dozen factories in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts that manufactured and shipped all the diners in the United States. At their peak in the 1950s, there were 6,000 across the country, as far-flung as Lakewood, Colorado and San Diego, though the highest concentration remained in the Northeast; today, there are only about 2,000, with New Jersey holding the title for most “diner-supplied” state, at 600-plus. New ones are still made occasionally, though, by the three remaining factories, and old ones are painstakingly restored by people like Gutman, who has worked on some 80 diners and currently has a couple of projects going, like the Owl Diner in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the alley (on the side).

Around World War II, diners began to be built in more than one section to accommodate more patrons and larger kitchens. This 1946 photograph shows the Tastee Diner being installed in Silver Spring, MD.
Collection of Richard J.S. Gutman

While Gutman is diplomatically reluctant to identify his favorite diner, one of his mainstays is Casey’s of Natick, Massachusetts, the country’s oldest operating diner. “They’ve supported five generations of a family on ten stools,” he says, gesturing to a photograph of the 10-by-20 ½ -half-foot, all oak-interior dining car, constructed as a horse-drawn lunch wagon in 1922, and bought secondhand five years later by Fred Casey and moved from Framingham to its current location four miles away. In the 1980s, when Gutman’s daughter Lucy was little, no sooner had they pulled up to the counter at Casey’s but Fred’s great-grandson Patrick would automatically slide a package of chocolate chip cookies down to Lucy, pour her a chocolate milk, and get her grilled cheese sandwich going on the grill. “If you go to a diner, yes, it’s a quick experience,” Gutman explains “But it’s not an anonymous experience.”

This unidentified diner interior was built by Paramount Dining Car Company of Haledon, NJ, in the late 1930s. The materials and design show diner detailing at its finest: stainless steel, chrome, Formica and ceramic tile. Collection of Richard J.S. Gutman

That intangible, yet distinctive sense of community captures what Gutman calls the ordinary person’s story. “Without ordinary people, how would the world run? Politicians have to go to diners to connect. What’s the word on the street? In diners, you get people from all walks of life, a real cross-section.” And while any menu around the country can be counted on for staples like ham and eggs and meatloaf—and, back in the day, pickled tongue and asparagus on toast—a region’s local flavor is also represented by its diners’ cuisine: scrod in New England, crab cakes in Maryland, grits down South.

The changing times are reflected on the diner menu, too: the Washington, D.C. chain Silver Diner introduced “heart-healthy” items in 1989 and recently announced that it would supply its kitchens with locally grown foods; the Capitol Diner, serving the working-class residents of Lynn, Massachusetts, since 1928, added quesadillas to its menu five years ago; today there are all-vegetarian diners and restored early 20th-century diners that serve exclusively Thai food.

If the essential diner ethos is maintained in the midst of such innovations, Gutman approves. But, purist that he is, he’ll gladly call out changes that don’t pass muster. Diners with kitsch, games, gumball machines or other “junk” frustrate him. “You don’t need that kind of stuff in a diner! You don’t go there to be transported into an arcade! You go there to be served some food, and to eat.”

And there you have the simplest definition of what, exactly, this iconic American eatery is. “It’s a friendly place, usually mom-and-pop with a sole proprietor, that serves basic, home-cooked, fresh food, for good value,” Gutman explains. “In my old age, I’ve become less of a diner snob”—itself a seeming contradiction in terms—“which, I think, is probably a good thing.”

Waterbury, CT’s Silver Diner closed

I got an email from Al Hofer on June 13th and he reports that the Silver Diner of Waterbury, CT is now closed. Here is what he said….

Hi Larry, While traveling through Waterbury, CT yesterday we were going to stop at the Silver Diner for dinner and found it looking like this.

Silver Diner, Waterbury, CT – 2010 exterior photo by Al Hofer

Silver Diner, Waterbury, CT – 2010 exterior photo by Al Hofer

Silver Diner, Waterbury, CT – 2010 exterior photo by Al Hofer

This is the former Lafayette Diner that was in Easton, PA. (I have it as The New Lafayette Diner in my log – LAC). The parking lot was so torn up and scattered with junk and clutter, that I couldn’t even figure out where the driveway was. It looks like the property has been taken over by a gravel processing plant. Surprisingly, the interior still looks to be in real good shape.

Silver Diner, Waterbury, CT – 2010 interior photo by Al Hofer

I thought it would be used for storing a bunch of crap. By the way, we passed Blackies Hot Dogs just up the street from the diner and it was still open.

Here are 2 of my photos of the same diner when I found it back on March 22, 1982. As I noted above, it was called The New Lafayette Diner and was just off Rte. 22 in Easton, PA. This is an early 1950’s Mountain View Diner but it had a Manno Diner “tag”. It looks like the only exterior modification that was done by Manno was the newer flared out roofline. This was removed by Steve Harwin (Diversified Diners) after he bought it in the early to mid 1990’s. He in turn sold the diner in 1994 and it became the Silver Diner in Waterbury.

The New Lafayette Diner, Easton, PA – 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

The New Lafayette Diner, Easton, PA – 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera