but hardly old.”
Feb 5, 2013
-Article by Charles Passy, Photo: Ramsay de Give
The classic diner can be a study in Art Deco design and feature such familiar elements as counter seating and an open kitchen. But in recent years, such styling can be seen in many eateries constructed anew as part of hat might be dubbed the retro diner craze. Just think about the Johnny Rockets chain, which touts its “timeless and fun environment” or the poised-for-expansion 5 & Diner chain, which goes by the motto, “Food, Fun, Fifties.” For the matter, consider the Southwest Diner in St. Louis: Co-owner Jonathan Jones fitted the eatery out with secondhand chrome fixtures and says customers “think we’ve been here a long time, when we’ve been only open seven months.”
But that kind of thinking doesn’t always please diner purists. The newer “old” restaurants “don’t have the nostalgia and the feel of stepping back a bit,” says Leslie Stewart, whose family has run Eddie’s Restaurant, a diner in the resort community if Sylvan Beach, N.Y., since its opening in 1934.
Operators of retro diners content that they’re simply trying to honor the past. “It’s a tribute,” says Johnny Rockets spokeswoman Cozette Phifer Koerber of the chain’s approach. (Koerber also noted that’s some newer Johnny Rockets have a more contemporary theme.) On top of that, operators say the classic look is more practical. At Southwest Diner, those secondhand fixtures not only cost less, they’re also easier to clean, says co-owner Anna Sidel.
Finally, as Bob Watson, founder of the 5 & Diner chain, explains, a classic diner may be a sight to behold, but the restaurants sometimes lack the appointments and amenities – think wider booths – that today’s patrons appreciate. A retro diner becomes an effective way to continue the tradition, he argues. “We’re rebuilding America one milkshake at a time,” he says.