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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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…

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

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

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

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

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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

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The Sparky Diner, formerly of Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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The Capitol Diner, Lynn, Massachusetts

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

GoFundMe page to help defray costs in transporting a 1920s vintage Diner from Pennsylvania to Rhode Island

I was contacted recently by Chris Tunnah in the last month. Chris is a restaurateur  based in  New York state operating restaurants as a General Manager & Consultant in NYC for the last 15 years, working with celebrity chef’s such as Tom Colicchio, Missy Robbins, Scott Conant and Floyd Cardoz to name just a few. Although living and working in New York, Chris also has a home in the Newport, Rhode Island area and has had a dream of bringing a small classic factory-built diner back to that area.

This is actually not the first time I had heard from Chris. We exchanged some emails back in March of 2013, when he was trying to obtain the long-closed Skee’s Diner of Torrington, Connecticut and move it to Newport or Middletown, RI, Unfortunately this plan ultimately fell thru. Also in that 2013 email Chris went on to say “Before Skee’s, two years ago I discussed purchasing the Red Rose Diner in Towanda, Pennsylvania from Mike Holt, but he was unable to commit to the sale….. and I await a change of heart from Mike. The Red Rose would be fantastic in Newport”.

I get daily “News blurbs” about “Diners” thru Google and was aware that Chris ‘s dreams about bringing a diner back to Rhode Island might be coming closer to reality. It seems the Red Rose Diner project was revived after the more recent closure of that diner. In the news pieces I have seen, it was mentioned that Chris had to jump thru some hoops to get approval for his plans to bring the diner to a new location im Middletown, CT. Unfortunately, this, along with the purchase price of the diner and property have stretched his savings account to the limits.

To complete his objective, Chris has started a GoFundMe page to help defray costs in bringing his Red Rose Diner from Pennsylvania to Rhode Island.  you can check out the GoFundMe page here for further details…  https://www.gofundme.com/save-one-of-last-1920039s-us-diners

As I happen to know a bit about this particular diner, let me fill in some of the details as I know them… The story of the Red Rose Diner goes back much further than its recent time in Towanda, PA. It is a 1927 vintage Tierney diner that has spent its whole life in Pennsylvania since it left the factory in New Rochelle, NY. It was originally built as the Lackawanna Trail Diner and operated under that name for many years in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Lackawanna-trail

Lackawana-Trail-Diner-postcard
Post card from my collection of the Lackawanna Trail Diner

I had first learned about this diner through a “before and after” piece John Baeder included in his 1984 book “Gas, Food and Lodging” (A Post Card Odyssey Through the American Roadside). In the book he showed the above post card image from his vast collection as well as a more recent photo he had shot in May of 1979 when it sported a weathered wooden shingle skirt under the windows and was called Besecker’s Diner.

Besecker's-Diner_John-Baeder_05-1979
May, 1979 photo by John Baeder when it was Besecker’s Diner

I first documented the diner in June 29, 1985, not too long after Gas, Food and Lodging first came out. By then the diner lost the wooden shingles and was painted white and operating as Jerry’s Diner. The diner continued to operate at the original location until the mid-to late 1990s.

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June 29, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera when it was Jerry’s Diner

In the late 1990s, the closed Jerry’s Diner became available and there was more than one entity interested in rescuing it. One of these entities was none other than my old friend Gordon Tindall of Decorah, Iowa. Gordon had previously rescued the Clarksville Diner from Clarksville, NJ near where he grew up. He had heard it was threatened because of new development that was happening in that area and he arranged to move it to Iowa in the late 1980s. After a lot of work restoring and equipping that diner, he was able to re-open it and operate it for 5 or 6 years. He eventually sold that diner and it was moved to France where it is today.

Well Gordon was not through after the first restoration and approached the owners of Jerry’s Diner and convinced them to sell it to him. He relocated the diner to a storage location in Lancaster, PA where he worked on the diner and brought it back to near original condition. He had hopes of keeping it in Lancaster but was never able to secure the location he wanted. That is when the diner ended up moving to Towanda. These next few photos are courtesy of Chris Tunnah of the Red Rose Diner in Towanda.

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Tindall operated this diner for another 5 years after opening it before moving on to another project. This would be the complete rebuild of an extremely rare diner that was saved by Michael Engle initially. This would be the former Village Diner of Wellington, Ohio. Also known as Cecil’s Trackside Diner before it closed at that location, this diner was built by Goodell Hardware out of the Silver Creek, New York area, a model that resembled ones built by Ward & Dickenson Diners.

Engle moved the diner from Ohio to Gilbertsville, NY but did not have the wherewithal to complete a restoration. In the meantime he had made the acquaintance of Tindall and finally asked him if he wanted to take on the daunting task to complete the job. So while Tindall was operating the Red Rose Diner, he had started to work on the new diner in his spare time. I wrote about that diner here on Diner Hotline back in June of 2009…  https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/gordon-tindalls-spud-boy-diner-gets-nice-write-up-and-it-is-almost-a-year-away-from-opening/

Anyway, we wish Chris Tunnah well in his endeavor and hope he can realize his goal of getting this classic diner re-opened again soon.