There are several specific features that make diners a unique type of restaurant. The name itself–diner–is a combination of “dining car” because they intentionally resemble a dining car on a train.
1. Highland Park Diner
1948 Orleans Manufacturing Company
In 1986, the diner reopened on its original site, having been closed for twelve years. Highland Park Diner has been restored as close as possible to the initial design.
From Dream Diner: Orleans Manufacturing Company in Albion, NY only built 3 diners, including Dauphin’s Superior Diner of Rochester, NY. Dauphin’s is still operating today as the Highland Park Diner on it’s original location.
2. Hunter’s Dinerant
The present diner building replaced an earlier one at the same location. The diner is perched on pillars over the Owasco River.
From Dream Diner: Starting in 1913, in Bayonne, NJ, Jerry O’Mahony was the leading manufacturer for decades. O’Mahony gave many diner builders their start in the industry. Many classic diners from the 40’s and 50’s that survive to this day were built by O’Mahony.
3. Skyliner Diner
1956 Fodero Dining Car Company
The Skyliner is located inside The Strong National Museum of Play, but before the admissions desk, and serves as one of the restaurant options available to patrons. You can dine at the restaurant without going into the museum itself.
The original location was it Pennsylvania and was transported here with the hopes of restoring it. When efforts failed, in 1995 The Strong acquired it and restored it to the beauty you see today.
From Dream Diner: Joseph Fodero started out at P.J. Tierney Sons in 1922.and later for Kullman before starting his own company in 1933. Fodero built some of the more stylish designs in the industry and is noted for its famous winged clock. The Agawam Diner in Rowley, MA is an excellent example.
4. Swan Street Diner
1937 J.B. Judkins Company
The Swan Street Diner is a Sterling Company Streamliner diner car (no.397). It was originally operated as the Newark Diner, located in Newark, N.Y.
In 2013 it was relocated to Buffalo, NY and restored to its original magnification glory, opening once again to customers in 2017.
From Dream Diner: John B. Judkins Co. built carriages from 1857-1910, motorcar bodies from 1910-1936 and then entered the diner-building business. The most famous model Sterling built was the streamliner with one or both ends configured in a bullet shape.
5. Penn Yan Diner
1925 Richardson Dining Car Company
The Penn Yan Diner is always busy so they use Yelp texting service to message you when your table is ready. Perfect if you’d like to wander through the village a bit while waiting.
6. Lake Effect Diner
1952 Mountain View Diners Company no. 446
Moved from Pennsylvania to Buffalo in 2001 and beautifully restored. Lake Effect was also featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri.
From Dream Diner: Mountain View Diners outsold most all of the other manufacturers in the 1950’s with an aggressive marketing campaign, sending their units all over the country. While attempting to go public in June, 1956 the company foundered and went out of business shortly thereafter.
More to explore!
Auburn Diner 1926 Bixler / Auburn
Modern Diner 1946 Ward & Dickinson / Wellsville
Connie’s Diner 1965 Manno / Waterloo
Smokin’ Little Diner 1955 Paterson Vehicle Company / Depew
A brief history of diners
Diners were modular–manufactured in one place and moved by rail to the final location. Diners were designed for mobility, much like tiny houses today.
According to American Diner Museum, as the automobile became the prime mode of transportation, “decommissioned railroad passenger cars and trolleys were often converted into diners by those who could not afford to purchase a new diner. They took on their classic Art Deco appearance utilizing stainless steel and neon in the design.”
Atlas Obscura points out that “as with train cars, diners were manufactured with mobility in mind. Trains took on a chrome, streamlined look in the 1930s, epitomized by the glorious design of the 1934 Burlington Zephyr train. Diners followed suit.”
From Paster Magazine, “After World War II, diners implemented Formica counter-tops, porcelain tiles, leather booths, wood paneling and terrazzo floors. The look of the diner changed as it spread to the suburbs, implementing stainless steel exteriors, large windows and wall decor. In the 1970s a revival took place and many diners were built with a retro look.”
Rochester railfans are incredibly lucky that passionate preservationists before us saw the value in retaining structures we can still appreciate today.
Tonight, you can dine at restaurants that Zimmern, Bourdain, Fieri and other Food Network and Travel Channel hosts have enjoyed. Bon Appétit!
Which are your favorite diners?
Share with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!