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

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

Peter-Pank-Diner
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…

Chadwick-Square-Diner-4
Chadwick Square Diner, Worcester, Massachusetts

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

Capitol-3_6-5-11
The Capitol Diner, Lynn, Massachusetts

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

April Vacation, 2011 – Part 1

This is the first time in about 3 years that I was able to take a week’s vacation in the early spring. I generally like to take a week in April and another week at the beginning of August when I can. So last Saturday I took a roadtrip out to Albany, NY by way of Route 2. This road has been a favorite of mine since I was young. You see my Dad used to love to take the family on “short rides”. Some were longer than others, but one in particular stands out. He got the family (with the exception of my older brother) into the car one day and said we were going on a short ride and we ended up in the Berkshire Hills on the Mohawk Trail (Rte. 2). To those unfamiliar with this area, we lived near Boston in eastern Massachusetts and the Mohawk Trail is in the extreme northwest corner of the state! Now that’s my kind of a short ride!

So continuing with this years April vacation, I was heading out to Albany to attend a Rock n’ Roll Expo. This Expo was basically your everyday vinyl record and rock n’ roll memorabilia collectors show. There were also performers at the show including Starz, a 1980’s band and also a John Lennon tribute band called “Imagining Lennon”. But the draw for me was that Tommy James (of Tommy James and the Shondells fame) was going to be there signing copies of his autobiography “Me, the Mob and the Music”, as well as a “meet and greet” with fans.

Denise decided not to accompany me on this trip, so I was on my own. Even though I missed her company, this was probably just as well as I needed to revisit some diners in the central and western areas of Massachusetts (on my way out and also coming back) for info and new photos for my “Classic Diners of Massachusetts” book and she would not have enjoyed all the stops at the diners. This trip out to Albany would provide a good opportunity to get some of that out of the way! So on the way out I stopped at the Blue Moon Diner in Gardner for breakfast. Owner, Jamie Floyd knew I was coming because I gave her a heads-up a day or so before on Facebook.

I got some great info and photos as well as a delicious breakfast while visiting Jamie. This is a diner I highly recommend if you are in the area!


Jamie Floyd, owner of the Blue Moon Diner in Gardner, Mass.
April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior of the Blue Moon Diner, April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Exterior of the Blue Moon Diner, April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

After leaving the Blue Moon, I continued heading west and got to Adams, Mass. about 9:00 am. I was expected at the Miss Adams Diner by owner Philomene Belair. We had been in contact for quite some time in the recent weeks. She had already sent me all the info I pretty much needed for the book and I wanted some new photos. Philomene and her husband Ric reopened the diner a little over a year ago on February 15, 2010. I am happy to report that it looks like this beleaguered diner is in good hands, and that hopefully down the line that they will have the money to bring the interior back to a semblance of what it used to be.


Interior of the Miss Adams Diner. Hopefully the Belairs will be able to restore the ceiling, getting rid of those LP vinyl records that were glued to the original formica panels by a previous owner!
April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


The crew at the Miss Adams Diner, Left-Right  Ric & Philomene Belair, Richard “Pip” Belair (Ric’s Dad) and Kelly Cross. 
April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Miss Adams Diner, April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

I spent a little over an hour visiting with Philomene and then continued on to Albany. I was driving into Troy, NY and called Glenn Wells to let him know I was in the area. When I told him where I was, he said you are about to go right past the “Famous Lunch”! Sure enough, he was right. I said I would call him after I visited Bill Brown over at the Miss Albany Diner and got off the phone. I went around the block and found a parking lot right next to the Famous Lunch and went in to try out a couple of their neat little hot dogs with “Zippy Sauce”, I had heard so much about.


Famous Lunch, 111 Congress St., Troy, NY
April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


The small hot dogs at Famous Lunch, photo from Famous Lunch website

Those 2 hot dogs I had were really scrumptious! If you are ever in Troy, you have to check this place out! The interior walls and ceiling are covered in green porcelain enameled steel panels! Their website is…. http://www.famouslunch.net/Welcome.html

I left Troy and drove a few miles down river to the Miss Albany Diner and visited briefly with Bill Brown. The place was hopping for an early Saturday afternoon!


Miss Albany Diner, April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

I met up with Glenn Wells at the Halfmoon Diner which is about a mile from where he lives. It is a very nice 1989 vintage DeRaffele-built diner that is currently undergoing a slight remodelling (by DeRaffele). The owner, Peter was very welcoming to me when Glenn introduced us. He had very warm feelings of dealing with Phil DeRaffele over the years and could not say enough good things about him and his company!


Halfmoon Diner, Clifton Park, NY. April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Halfmoon Diner, Clifton Park, NY. April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

We dropped my car off at Glenns house where I met his lovely wife Susan finally. We talked briefly and then Glenn and I left to shanghai Mike Engle from whatever he might have been doing! The first place Glenn took me was the Snow Man Ice Cream stand at 531 5th Avenue in Troy. I had seen photos of this place and wanted to get some for myself…..


Snow Man Ice Cream, Troy, NY. April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Snow Man Ice Cream, Troy, NY. April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Snow Man Ice Cream, Troy, NY. April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

After shooting the Snow Man photos, Glenn drove over to the Country View Diner in Brunswick, NY. This is a 1980’s Swingle Diner that was updated more recently by DeRaffele.


Country View Diner of Brunswick, NY
April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Country View Diner of Brunswick, NY
April 16, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

We also went by Dewey’s Diner and Inga’s Diner which happen to live right next door to each other on Fuller Road in Albany. Dewey’s is a 1940 vintage Kullman Diner that has seen better days (certainly on the outside) and Inga’s is an on-site built diner.


Dewey’s Diner, Albany, NY. April 16, photo by Larry Cultrera


Dewey’s Diner, Albany, NY. April 16, photo by Larry Cultrera


Inga’s Diner, Albany, NY. April 16, photo by Larry Cultrera


Inga’s Diner, Albany, NY. April 16, photo by Larry Cultrera

We visited 3 more diners last Saturday and I will continue this in the next post, stay tuned…..