” The Classic American Diner – Does It Still Have A Place In Our Heart ? ”

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Dear friend’s of ChefsOpinion :

I would like to share this with all of you in order to :

a)  Help my friend Daryl to get more opinions about his new project.
b)  Find out how popular traditional diners are?
c) Find out what attracts today’s customers to a traditional diner?

Please, instead of commenting on the individual group pages, go to  “ChefsOpinion”
and post all your comments directly in the comment box and / or participate in the poll.

Thank you all  🙂

Image Source: Alta CollectiblesVintage Reproduction

Hello Hans,

I like to hear what your followers think about American Diners.

My next location is an all stainless-steel diner built in 1950 in Elizabeth, NJ by the O’Mahoney company. It’ll be attached to new-construction that will house the kitchen and a second dining room. The menu will be built on New England and American cookery with a high comfort-factor, but, leaning on contemporary taste and sensibilities for quality and flavor.

My question is in two parts:
1. Location – This is a question asked as work on this project progressed: how does the location of a vintage diner impact or limit the curb-appeal of the restaurant. In our opinion, traditional pre-fab diners are deeply perceived by the public as stand-alone operations. With this in mind, a vintage diner can be positioned in a strip-mall/plaza development in such a way connects it to be connected to the new construction and allows the vintage diner to stand proud of the new construction, giving it the appearance of a stand-alone.
2. Menu – Diners, in their time, offered food that was highly contemporary. Their ingredients and methods were of the essence of their age and, in the process, a style was born. The strength of diner’s cookery style heritage is so strong that to open a diner without including some of that style is commercially risky. So, if you had a vintage diner on your hands, what would you do to bring the classic dinner menu into the 21st centaury to meet the expectations of today’s guests?

I’d also like the leave open the topic of “Diners” in general. I’ve been working on this project for about 8-eight months and I have yet to talk to anyone, another professional or a novice, who does have a reaction to the idea of a Diner. So, let me know your thoughts!

Thanks!
Daryl
D.T. Mc Gann
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17 comments

    1. I think the diner is still a intregal part of the american gastronomic scene and there is much to be said about our roots in diners, although in the west there arent many so called diner, back east there easy to be found and there much apart of the local flavor of any given town or city!!

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  1. Group: Food Service Professionals Network

    Discussion: ” The Classic American Diner – Does It Still Have A Place In Our Heart ? ”

    I think we have a generation coming up that will relish the discovery of the great American diner! The operator owned restaurant with its’ unique offerings of quality food will appeal to those who’s curiosity drives them to find a better option than chain dining. High traffic location may be a bit contrary to the diner heritage but a economic survival necessity. Best of luck!
    Posted by Scott Soderberg

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  2. I think nostalgia is fogging reality. “Greasy spoon” and “rot gut” coffee are terms both spawned by the average “classic American diner.” The socially democratic concept of the diner is what we miss, and, fortunately, with the revival & preservation of remaining diners we now are getting “operator owned restaurant with its’ unique offerings of quality food” in the 21st century.

    Like

  3. Group: ChefsOpinion

    Discussion: ” The Classic American Diner – Does It Still Have A Place In Our Heart ? ”

    Love the idea of an American diner, reminds me of my childhood when I use to go to the states on vacation. Old fashioned ice cream soda’s, milk shakes and burgers…..yummy
    Great idea to bring these vintage food pleasures back to life.

    Posted by Eliane Muskus

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  4. Group: Hospitality Trends

    Discussion: ” The Classic American Diner – Does It Still Have A Place In Our Heart ? ”

    Still a popular concept for the young diner here in South Africa. With the whole 50’s trend coming back, I believe the American Diner can, with a few additional concepts, grow in popularity once again.

    Posted by Elaine Schoeman

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  5. Group: Sharing Real Food & Real Opinions

    Discussion: ” The Classic American Diner – Does It Still Have A Place In Our Heart ? ”

    I equate the classic American Diner with comfort foods…those lovely dishes that we dive into, exclaiming “this is real food!”. I miss those places as there doesn’t seem to enough of them. My caveat to opening one is trump up the yum factor in the dishes on the menu; don’t get caught up in fussy, gussy new-fangled ingredients but just ante up the flavor that makes each dish outstanding. This is what I remember about diners and this is what would bring me in the door. Sadly Mel’s Diner et al. doesn’t do it for me because their chain-store-like ho-hum food leaves me non-plussed. Anybody can have cool retro interiors and cool 40-50’s music but it’s all about the food. I would drive forever to get the best meatloaf or mac-n-cheese, the fluffiest mashed potatoes, etc. Simply outplay all of the other players; make me want your food and your food only! and I’ll sit in your booths!

    D.T. McCann, do it right and you’ll be a hit! The classic American Diner is carved in hospitality history just like the crossroads inns of yore, British pubs, French cafes, truck stops, and Woolworth’s lunch counter. It’s where we first tasted food better than Mom’s and drank our first bottomless cup of coffee. Can’t wait…where are you located? I’ll be right over.

    Posted by Patricia Lynn Straw

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  6. monique djerf

    Hi Chef Hans….Absolutely….word is now that American’s are heading back to more comfort food related dining especially with the times being what they are. Good luck to your friend Daryl! I’ll be opening a breakfast/lunch cafe next month here in Chicago and we’ll be serving lots of comfort food to go….wish me luck as well!

    All the best! Chef Monique

    Like

  7. Group: Food Service Professionals Network

    Discussion: ” The Classic American Diner – Does It Still Have A Place In Our Heart ? ”

    I don’t know that the “Classic American Diner” as you put it has ever gone away. I do agree with Scott that the old adage, “location, location, location” holds very true in today’s culture. It is also very important for today’s independent operator to learn to function as a chain would, using the tools that a chain would use.

    Posted by Ralph Franco Pitts

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  8. Nicholas Presher •
    I love classic American food, as long as you cut the portion in half and avoid going back for seconds. I truly believe as Americans that we eat way to big meals, cut back and help cure diabetes and childhood obesity.

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  9. Group: The Plate Chef’s Table

    Discussion: ” The Classic American Diner – Does It Still Have A Place In Our Heart ? ”

    Monique – please keep me posted on your progress, and, send photos and menus when you have them.

    Best,
    Daryl
    Posted by D.T. Mc Gann

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  10. Thank you all for your comments so far. I am going to time tomorrow to go thru them, pick-out some key points and give my response ‘in bulk’. Having lived this project for 8 months and subjecting constant review and evaluation has yield good understanding of what I want as the final outcome. Diners are a largely pre-defined – you can open a restaurant, and, it’ll be what every you intend; diners, however, are a style and a function of their own. The roadside is littered with failures, and, the reason for their demise is near always found on the plate; the food was either poor, or, had nothing in common with the architecture.

    Our company is generally very good at build-out and back office – core competencies that smaller multi-unit independents are often challenged by – and, while not without our own challenges (not by a long shot!) I’m thankful to say I have a strong team of creative yet level headed people that get the work done. The restoration of a diner is the re-building of an antique piece of restaurant equipment… that does not have a manual. To some that’s overly intimidating, but, while I found it daunting at first, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m glad to share absolutely everything I’ve learned, and, hope to do so here along with some pictures of the antique itself.

    While allowing ourselves to enjoy the fun of the project, we’ve been keeping our eye on the end result and what it should be like as a daily operation. Our conclusion is that there is some room within the range of common diner fare to take the classics and update them enough – just enough – to make them appealing and relevant in our own age. Those who stray too far from the roots of either the culture or the food of diners often find themselves in trouble. The appetite of the locals really defines the latitude we have to interpret the style; in our case our the area is teaming with talented chefs and good restaurants, and, the need for simple cookery with a high comfort factor at a regularly affordable price is largely undeserved.

    More about that in my next post.

    Thank you all for your comments, and, please keep the conversation going!

    Best,
    Daryl

    Like

  11. Group: The Plate Chef’s Table

    Discussion: ” The Classic American Diner – Does It Still Have A Place In Our Heart ? ”

    D.T. – I know I commented about this topic in a different thread but it strikes me after reading what Monique wrote that another very important quality in the success of any business is to know exactly what you want and to not be willing to sacrifice your standards. Monique is also right about the fact that the more stress that people find in their daily lives the more they turn to food as a source of comfort – and what comforts people more than sizable portions of food that return us to our own dining room where we grew up.

    Monique, I wish you well, as I too would love to open a similar place one day. I have my ideas and won’t settle for less, so it must wait. . .for now. . .

    Best to all!
    Posted by Michael Crane

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  12. John Cody •
    The Classic American Diner will always have a place with the public. People get tired of the usual fast food and pricey places. They also enjoy the warmth that comes from the home cooked food and the cooks and servers. They don’t rush you. It’s a concept that never grows old. Their usually owner operated and those operations make it a point to take care of the customer, not that other restaurants don’t. It’s just a local flavor that has always worked..

    Like

  13. Group: Food Service Professionals Network

    Discussion: ” The Classic American Diner – Does It Still Have A Place In Our Heart ? ”

    In New Hampshire, I only know of 3 of them, there may be more here. Who really doesn’t like classic’s and nastalgia ? If your friend Daryl build’s it, they will come, location,location,location…

    Posted by Joe ‘ Woz ‘ Wozniak

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    1. Firstly, thank you all for your comments and especially to Hans for kindly re-posting them here on ChefsOpinion.

      Many of you noted the need for good location. We’ve selected a site that some diner enthusiasts have winced at: a retail plaza; at first glance I too was not excited about the nature of the site. My heartfelt understanding of a ‘real’ diner is that they are standalones, not, built as an amenity to a strip mall, and, indeed, I do think that an in-town, Main Street type of location dues fulfill that understanding. But, such nostalgic thinking can be overly narrow and limit or interfere with the restaurants success, because it excludes he nature of the town itself; its traffic patterns, how the population moves and uses the services of the town.

      I’ve expounded on location in a group hosted by Randy Garbin of Diner Finder, and, I repost my own comments below in hopes of soliciting further comment here on ChefsOpinion.

      *****
      This [location] is a question asked as work on one of our own projects progressed: does the location of a diner (a vintage pre-fab) limit the curb-appeal of the restaurant. In our opinion, traditional pre-fab diners are deeply perceived by the public as stand-alone operations. With this in mind, a vintage diner can be positioned in a strip-mall/plaza development in such a way that allows it to be connected to the new construction and allows the vintage diner to stand proud of the the new construction, giving it the appearance of a stand-alone.

      I see diners standing on their own merits. A diner that is thriving in one location could falter or fail in another location; by the same token, a failing diner in a so-called “bad location” could be taken over by a different owner and could thrive. As the nature of towns change in modern-America, there are locations that are now ideal for diners that 15-years ago would have been B-grade sites, or, worse.

      As diners progressed from mobile operations, to, fixed-locations, to in-town and suburban destinations they have been tested and refined by contemporary tastes and the changing nature of the audience they serve. We, as moderns, have an eye for their nostalgia; but, the diners themselves were generally born of function that met the need of their times.

      As we bring diners into the 21st century we are fortunate to have the legacy of a certain set of rules and style to help us in defining what a diner is; but, we must update some of the practical function of the vintage diner so that it stays relevant to the modern consumer. Some examples of that include the use of food items, food quality and cooking techniques that are in keeping with current tastes.

      As to location, I would say that diners went to where the people were – so, if a town has developed a strip mall or plaza as one of its urban centers, then, that is the place for a diner to be.
      *****

      Note that I brought up the topic of Menu. Just as diners customarily were established in certain types of locations to seek their customers, so to did diners customarily offer certain types of food. We think of such typical diner menus as static, locked in their age and timeless when, in fact, diner menus were highly dynamic and reflected the taste of their age and changed regularly to match changing tastes. Indeed, diners have left a legacy of certain items that we’d be foolish to ignore; but, to think of a diner menu as conceptually locked and unchangeable is to ignore the essence of a diner’s traditional flexibility. Such rigid desire to be “authentic” can, ironically, lead to a very in-authentic diner.

      Location & Menu – the heart of the restaurant business. Please, feel free to challenge me on either of these topics, or, any other point of restaurants in general and, specifically, on diners. Your questions so far have helped refine my thinking and a good, challenging debate maintains sharp critical thinking.

      Thanks!
      Daryl

      Like

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