Cool ghost neon sign for the Valley Diner outside Toms Brook (south of Strasburg, VA) along U.S. Route 11. According to Diner Hunter, it opened in 1932 and was likely built on-site. This sign has been there since at least the 1960s. dinerhunter.com/2011/11/27/valley-diner-toms-brook-va/
Neon sign for the Twenty Four Hundred Diner, 2400 Princess Anne Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
If New Jersey is the diner capital of the U.S., Massachusetts is a close second. Thomas Buckley began to sell lunch wagons in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1887. Charles Palmer, who patented a “Night-Lunch Wagon” in 1893, also operated in Worcester. The Worcester Lunch Car Company, founded by Philip H. Duprey and Grenville Stoddard, was an iconic diner manufacturer from 1906 to 1957. It produced 651 diners, many of which still exist today. Several are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Worcester diners look more like railroad cars than their newer counterparts, with smooth metal exteriors and wooden interiors. Most have a distinctive barrel roof and a row of large windows, with entrances at either end.
The Miss Worcester Diner, 302 Southbridge Street in Worcester, Massachusetts, is a 1948 Worcester (#812) built for Dino Soteropoulos. It sits across the street from the old Worcester Lunch Car Company factory and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. This classic diner is a local favorite.
Les Daniel and Henry Strys founded the Mountain View Diners Company in Singac, New Jersey in 1938. From 1938 to 1957, the company produced around 400 prefabricated restaurants. Though of simple design, many are still in operation, proving that their motto “A Mountain View Diner will last a lifetime” still holds true today. When you think of a classic 1950s diner, a Mountain View probably comes to mind.
The 29 Diner, at 10536 Fairfax Blvd in Fairfax, Virginia, is a 1947 Mountain View, and its original owners were D.T. “Bill” and Elvira “Curly” Glascock. It was known as the Tastee 29 Diner in 1992 when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. A former waitress and her husband, Ginger and Fredy Guevara, purchased the diner in the 1990s and restored its original name. They owned it until 2014, when it was bought by John Wood.
Route 66 Diner, at 950 Bay Street in Springfield, Massachusetts, is a 1957 Mountain View, one of the last manufactured by that Signac, New Jersey company. Originally called the Bay Diner, owner Donald A. Roy bought it in 1975 and the restaurant is managed by his brother-in-law, Charlie Allen.
New Jersey is often described as the diner capital of the United States, but in my opinion, New York out paces it by far. You won’t find such a large concentration of classic diners anywhere else. In 1895, Patrick J. Tierney, who coined the term “diner”, began a lunch wagon business that grew so fast it inspired him to begin manufacturing the mobile restaurants himself in his hometown of New Rochelle, New York. Two of his former employees went on to create the iconic diner manufacturers Fodero Dining Car Company and the Kullman Dining Car Company.
The DeRaffele Manufacturing Company took over the Tierney factory in New Rochelle in 1933 and continues to operate there to the present day. Two other New York-based diner builders were the Orleans Manufacturing Company in Albion, New York (only built three diners) and Ward & Dickinson in Silver Creek, New York. Ward & Dickinson operated from 1923 to 1940.
The Red Robin Diner, at 268 Main Street, is a classic Mountain View-style diner that originally opened in neighboring Binghamton in 1950 and moved to its present location in 1959. The 35-ton diner took two hours to move. Chris and Pat Anagnostakos ran the business for 37 years until retirement.
Jerry and Daniel O’Mahony founded the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1917, sparking a renaissance of New Jersey diner manufacturing. It operated until 1952, churning out around 2,000 prefabricated restaurants. An offshoot called Mahony Diners, Inc. built four more diners before closing in the late 1950s.
“A modern Jerry O’Mahony dining car is more than just a casual eating place, – it’s the kind of place that people enthuse about and return to frequently,” a 1943 company advertisement promised.
Despite being one of the oldest and most prolific diner manufacturers in the country, only a few dozen O’Mahony diners remain. I’ve visited O’Mahonys in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia. O’Mahony diners have a simple, rectangular design with a ridged stainless steel exterior. Most have single-door, centrally located entrances.
Triangle Diner, at 27 W. Gerrard Street in Winchester, Virginia, is a 1948 O’Mahony with a stainless steel exterior and a storied history. Though currently closed, the Triangle Diner employed future country music star Patsy Cline in the early 1950s. Unlike many diners, it has sat at the same intersection since it opened. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
Vermont is a hidden gem for diner enthusiasts. Quaint mountain towns dot the countryside, and classic diners await hungry travelers. Though Vermont wasn’t known for diner manufacturing, enough found their way to the Green Mountain State to make this an important detour on any culinary tour.
Chelsea Royal Diner, at 487 Marlboro Road in West Brattleboro, Vermont, is a 1939 Worcester Diner (#736) moved here from downtown West Brattleboro. The 1958 sign was discovered in a New Hampshire barn and restored in 1999. The staff takes pride in its locally sourced food and homemade “Royal Madness” Ice Cream.
Public House Diner, at 5573 Woodstock Road in Quechee, Vermont, is a 1946 Worcester (#787). It was originally the Ross Diner located in Holyoke, Massachusetts. It closed in 1990 and moved to New Hampshire for a few short years before ultimately coming to Vermont. Since then, it’s had a succession of names, including the Yankee Diner, Farmer’s Diner, and the Quechee Diner. It reopened as the Public House in 2017 at Quechee Gorge Village, a tourist’s trap outside Quechee State Park.