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This article is about a type of restaurant. For other meanings, see Diner (disambiguation).
A diner is a prefabricated restaurant building characteristic of North America, especially in the Midwest, in New York City, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and in other areas of the Northeastern United States, although examples can be found throughout the United States, Canada and parts of Western Europe. Some people apply the term not only to the prefabricated structures, but also to restaurants that serve cuisine similar to traditional diner cuisine even if they are located in more traditional types of buildings. Diners are characterized by offering a wide range of foods, mostly American, a casual atmosphere, a counter, and late operating hours. "Classic American Diners" are often characterized by an exterior layer of stainless steel—a feature unique to diner architecture.
The first diner was created in 1872, by a man named Walter Scott (Witzel). He worked at a printing press, and decided to sell food out of a horse-pulled wagon (Sawyer). He sold to night workers, and patrons of men's clubs.[where?] Scott then decided that his business was successful; he then quit his job and sold food full-time ("American Diner Museum "). Scott’s diner can be considered the first diner with “walk up” windows that were located on each side of the wagon (Witzel).The first recorded diner was a horse-drawn wagon equipped to serve hot food to employees of the Providence Journal, in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1872. Walter Scott, who ran the lunch wagon, had previously supplemented his income by selling sandwiches and coffee to his fellow pressmen at the Journal from baskets he prepared at home. Commercial production of lunch wagons began in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1887, by Thomas Buckley. Buckley was very successful and became known for his "White House Cafe" wagons. Charles Palmer received the first patent (1891) for the diner. He built his "fancy night cafes" and "night lunch wagons" in the Worcester area until 1901.
The Rosebud Diner, a restored 1941 Worcester Lunch Car #773, as it appeared in 2012. Somerville, MA
In 1906 Philip Duprey and Irving Stoddard established the Worcester Lunch Car Company, which shipped 'diners' all over the Eastern Seaboard. The first manufactured lunch wagons with seating appeared throughout the Northeastern US in the late 19th century, serving busy downtown locations without the need to buy expensive real estate. It is generally accepted that the name "diner" as opposed to "lunch wagon" was not widely used before 1925. Many diners still exist in the Worcester area, including the Boulevard Diner, one of the oldest diners in the country and on the National Registry of Historical Places.
The Bendix Diner in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, is an example of Art Deco style and neon signage.Jerry O'Mahony Diner Company
A Bayonne, New Jersey, man by the name of Jerry O'Mahony (1890-1969) is credited by some to have made the first "diner".The Jerry O'Mahony Diner Company of Elizabeth, New Jersey, produced 2,000 diners from 1917 to 1952. Only approximately twenty O'Mahony diners are still in existence throughout the United States and in certain parts of the world. As an example, the Murphy's Diner from Cambridge, Massachussetts, was sold across the Atlantic Ocean and is currently trading as the 50s American Diner in Swadlincote, South Derbyshire in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., the northernmost is Martha's Diner in Coventry, Vermont. The Summit Diner, a 1938 model, is located in Summit, NJ. The oldest southern diner (non–stainless steel style) is believed to be the Hillsville Diner in Carroll County, Virginia. The Triangle Diner, a 1948 stainless steel O'Mahony original model, is located in the old town of Winchester, Virginia and is currently being historically restored to how it appeared in 1948. The Triangle Diner is the oldest stainless steel style O'Mahony diner in the State of Virginia. In 2007 Tommy's Deluxe Diner was moved from Middletown, Rhode Island to Oakley, Utah where it opened as the Road Island Diner. One of the original ones displayed at the 1939 New York World's Fair, made by Paramount Diners, is still in operation as the White Mana in Jersey City. Also in Jersey City is the Miss America, a 1942 classic stainless steel model, located next to the New Jersey City University campus.
Inspired by the streamlined trains, and especially the Burlington Zephyr, Roland Stickney designed a diner in the shape of a streamlined train called the Sterling Streamliner in 1939. Built by the J.B. Judkins coach company, who had built custom car bodies, the Sterling and other diner production ceased in 1942 at the beginning on American involvement in World War II.
Two Sterling Streamliners remain in operation: the Salem Diner at its original location in Salem, Massachusetts and the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
As the number of seats increased, wagons gave way to pre-fabricated buildings made by many of the same manufacturers who had made the wagons. Like the lunch wagon, a stationary diner allowed one to set up a food service business quickly using pre-assembled constructs and equipment.
Interior of the 1938 Sterling manufactured diner in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania - note curved ceiling
Until the Great Depression, most diner manufacturers and their customers were located in the Northeast. Diner manufacturing suffered with other industries in the Depression, though not as much as others, as people still had to eat, and the diner offered a less expensive way of getting into the restaurant business as well as less expensive food than more formal establishments. After World War II, as the economy returned to civilian production and the suburbs boomed, diners were an attractive small business opportunity. During this period, diners spread beyond their original urban and small town market to highway strips in the suburbs, even reaching the Midwest, with manufacturers such as Valentine.
Greek immigrants founded more than 600 diners in the New York region in the 1950s through the 1970s.In many areas, diners were superseded in the 1970s by fast food restaurants, but in parts of New Jersey, New York, the New England states, Delaware and Pennsylvania the independently-owned diner remains relatively common. During this period, newly-constructed diners lost their narrow, stainless steel, streamlined appearance, and grew into much bigger buildings, though often still made of several pre-fabricated modules and assembled on site and still manufactured by the old line diner builders. A wide variety of architectural styles were now used for these later diners, including Cape Cod and Colonial. The old-style single module diners featuring a long counter and a few small booths sometimes now grew additional dining rooms, lavish wallpaper, fountains, crystal chandeliers and Greek statuary. The definition of the term diner began to blur as older, pre-fab diners received more conventional stick-built additions, sometimes leaving the original structure nearly unrecognizable as it was surrounded by new construction or a renovated facade. Businesses that called themselves diners but which were built onsite and not prefabricated began to appear. These larger establishments were sometimes known as diner-restaurants.