Sunday, July 22, 2012

"The diner is

everyone's kitchen. ~Richard Gutman

Since we packed our suitcases last week, I thought we should hit the road this week, and I got some inspiration from a visit to my friend's shop, The White Whale, in downtown Cape May Court House here in NJ.  I showcased his shop last year, and it is still a treasure trove of goodies.  But, what always catches my eye is his diner china display.
New Jersey, the "diner capital of the world", with more than 500 diners, has the largest concentration of diners in the United States.  The Jersey diner ranges from the shiny chrome rail-like cars with neon signs and lighting to the more modern stonewalled structures that are replacing the rail-like car, brightly lit buildings.

The ownership of diners is undergoing change though. Anyone who has eaten in a diner associates the ownership with first generation Greek immigrants. Today, many of the children of the Greek immigrant diner owners have been through college and have become non-restaurant professionals and are not interested in the long workdays and limited vacations. With this, the Greek owners with no children to pass their business to, are selling out to other immigrants, mostly Asian, who are willing to endure the sacrifices of time.
Another change in the traditional diner is the hours of operation. In the past many diners in New Jersey were open 24 hours a day and now there are probably no more than a dozen diners in NJ open 24 hours a day.  But, New Jersey was not the birth place of the diner.

According to my research, Walter Scott, a part-time pressman and type compositor in Providence, Rhode Island supplemented his income by selling sandwiches and coffee from a basket to newspaper night workers and patrons of men's club rooms. By 1872 business became so lucrative that Scott quit his printing work and began to sell food at night from a horse-drawn covered express wagon parked outside the Providence Journal newspaper office. 

The American Diner Museum site states that "wagons evolved to allow customers to stand inside, protected from inclement weather or sit on stools at counters. Night lunch wagons or 'Nite Owls' began to appear in many New England towns and cities during the late 1800's. Some models were elaborate and were fitted with stained and etched glass windows, intricately painted murals and fancy woodwork. The lunch wagons became very popular because workers and pedestrians could purchase inexpensive meals during the day but especially at night when most restaurants closed by 8:00 pm."
 Philip H. Duprey founded the company in 1906 as the Worcester Lunch Car and Carriage Manufacturing Company. It was named for Worcester, Massachusetts, where the company was based. In order to increase business, particularly from women who secured the right to vote in 1920, diner owners cleaned up their image, adding shrubs and flower boxes, offering booth service and repainting their diners. Many dining car owners included the word "Miss" in their names to help feminize and soften their image.  The company produced over 600 diners between 1906 and 1957, when manufacturing ceased. All of Worcester Lunch Car's assets were auctioned in 1961.
Diners lost their charm as fast food took over, but consider these diner dishes...
Don't you think these are so much more appealing than styrofoam boxes and fake aluminum foil?

Along with the diners, many of the pottery companies that produced dinerware also closed in the 1950s and the 1960s.  Syracuse survived until 2009 when its production went overseas.  Homer Laughlin, know for Fiesta, is still in production in West Virginia--amazingly!

At one time, Trenton, NJ, was second only to East Rutherford, Ohio, in pottery production.  Lamberton China/Scammell Pottery, until it closed in the 1950's, was well known for its custom designed restaurant and hotel China and  B&O R.R.  Centennial China.
You must admit that these creamers are far more appealing than cream in a plastic cup.
Diner/restaurant china has many faces...whether promoting its hotel, restaurant or organization...and how neat would a table set with a variety be...

or...look for the decorative patterns...

So, if you are in our area, check out The White Whale, 27 E. Pacific Ave...George is open for other hours or an appointment...

And, remember as you travel, these words from Camus:  "All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.  Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant's revolving door."

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