Do You Know Your Diner
This iconic eatery has played a major role in American history and pop culture.
These are only a few of the images that conjure the American diner—that iconic, side-of-the-road, open-24-hours-a-day greasy spoon that has fed so many of us over the last century. From its start as a somewhat mail-order concept to dotting the entire New Jersey Turnpike and locations west toward the Pacific, the diner has played an important role in U.S. history—and it’s likely more than you remember at first glance. Join us as we take a stroll down the diner highway.
- In 1872, Walter Scott developed the first diner, which was actually a covered horse-drawn lunch wagon. Its popularity spawned an industry.
- In the early 20th century, companies like O’Mahony Diner Company in Elizabeth, N.J., and Worcester Lunch Car and Carriage Manufacturing Company in Worcester, Mass., made thousands of pre-fabricated diners that were shipped around the country.
- In the 1950s, there were about 6,000 diners across America.
- On Feb. 1, 1960, four African-American students staged a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s in Greensboro, N.C., when they sat at a soda fountain counter and refused to leave without being offered service. It sparked a nationwide sit-in movement as part of the Civil Rights Movement.
- With approximately 600 diners, New Jersey is considered the diner capital of the world.
- New York boasts an estimated 500 Greek-owned diners.
- Movies and television shows like “Happy Days,” “Alice,” “Diner,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Seinfeld” were either set in or had legendary moments in diners.
- Tony Soprano’s last meal was served at Holsten’s, a diner and ice cream parlor in Bloomfield, N.J.
- Singer Suzanne Vega’s popular song “Tom’s Diner” was inspired by Tom’s Restaurant in New York, which served as the exterior for Monk’s Café, the diner where Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer often ate on “Seinfeld.”
- The corn dog, a.k.a. “hot dog on a stick,” a.k.a. “Cozy Dog," was allegedly invented at the Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, Ill., on June 16, 1946, by Ed Waldmire, Jr.
- Tom Cruise is in a booth at Deluca’s Diner in Pittsburgh for a scene in the 2012 movie “Jack Reacher."
- Tops Diner, which opened in 1942 in Newark, N.J., serves approximately 15,000 people a week from a massive menu that includes 15 types of burgers, 11 hand-spun milkshake flavors and a $32 16-ounce prime rib available only on Sundays.
- Brent’s Drugs, which opened in 1946 in Jackson, Miss., served 24,114 burgers and 27,213 milkshakes between July 2017 and July 2018.
- At Travis Coffee Shop, which opened in 1968 in St. Clair Shores, Mich., you can still get a hamburger for $1.55, a cheeseburger for $1.90 or a 6-pack of either for $8 or $9.75, respectively.
- Lou Mitchell’s, which opened in Chicago in 1923—three years before historic Route 66 on which it sits—gives everyone waiting for a table homemade doughnut holes. It was the first place in Chicago to serve breakfast all day. The restaurant, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, goes through an average of 15,000 eggs per week.
- St. Francis Fountain, located in the Mission District, is San Francisco’s oldest diner, which opened originally as a soda fountain in 1918.
- Founded in 1927, Palace Diner in Biddeford, Maine, is the state’s oldest.
Pancakes have always been Ari Bendersky’s breakfast weakness, and every now and again he gets a craving, whips up a fresh batch of delightfully fluffy buttermilk pancakes at home or indulges in a stack at a nearby diner. One ritual has remained since childhood: Ari butters each pancake in the stack, cuts up the entire batch and douses the whole thing with quality maple syrup before diving in.