There’s something about eating in a diner that makes us feel closer to some unique piece of America that exists only in our peripheral vision these days.
While diner car restaurants were popping up in various forms around the country from the 1920s through the 1960s, here in the City of Buffalo, the dining category defined by quick, cheap food served in a sparse, sometimes questionable environment was dominated Deco Restaurants.
In the 1940s, there were more than 50 tiny Deco lunch counter restaurants tucked into every neighborhood in Buffalo, in much the same way that other big cities of the time had diners.
The good news is that the pre-fab diners that dotted America’s landscape were made to be moved, so just because Buffalo didn’t have any diners during the diner heyday doesn't mean we can’t eat in authentic, decades-old manufactured diner cars today.
And as we learn about the pre-Buffalo history of the city’s two very popular diners, we also see that while the unique American institution of the diner is new to these neighborhoods, the style of service existed in the uniquely Buffalo institution of the Deco Restaurant within a block or two of both places.
Lake Effect Diner
What we know as the Lake Effect Diner today was manufactured in 1952, one of 400 or so built by the Mountain View Diners Co. in Singac, N.J. It began life in Wayne, P.A., as the Main Line Grille.
Elsie D’Ignazio was a cook there, and when the business came up for sale, she bought the place.
The place operated as the Wayne Diner for about 20 years; then it was sold and became Orient House Chinese restaurant. A few years later, the place was renamed China Buddha Restaurant and was an area landmark known as much for its giant red, green and white sign as its cuisine.
Lake Effect owner Tucker Curtain bought the diner and went to great lengths to bring it back to its original look, with lots of stainless steel and pink tiles. Today you'll find the Lake Effect Diner on Main Street in University Heights.
While the people of Wayne, P.A., were eating meatloaf at the Wayne Diner, people at Main and Englewood — a few blocks from where the diner now stands — were eating at Deco Restaurant.
Built as a Deco Restaurant, for decades, the building was home to Chabad House. Currently, the storefront is back to its restaurant roots as the home of Wholly Crepe.
Swan Street Diner
With baked enamel walls and mahogany window trim, the classic Newark Diner opened in 1939.
Only three families operated the restaurant for the more than 70 years it was open in Newark, N.Y.
"It's not so much fancy stuff as it is plain food, good cooking with flavor," said John Reynolds, the second owner, in the Finger Lake Times in 1984. "But the most important thing we have isn't for sale — it's simply friendship, a place to go. The people who come in here, they have all the virtues you would consider American — a very strong work ethic. They go to work in the morning, stop in for coffee, to see their friends, to talk or complain about work."
That description of the blue-collar folks shuffling through the diner when it was in the small Steuben County town sounds a lot like what was happening a block away at the Deco on Seneca Street just on the other side of Emslie Street from the diner's current location.
In 1993, ABC's General Hospital descended on the restaurant, changed the sign and made "The Triple L Diner" part of the Luke and Laura story line.
Scenes were shot both inside and outside the Newark for the daytime soap.
Starting in 2013, the Zemsky Family, which runs the Larkin Development Group, had the J.B. Judkins Co. “Sterling-brand” diner moved and renovated.
It opened on Swan Street in 2017.