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.
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.
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.
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.
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.