A Helping of History in North New Jersey Diners
On a brisk September day, roadside enthusiasts gathered in New Providence, New Jersey, for the North Jersey Diner Tour. Hosted by the Society for Commercial Archeology and led by Kevin Patrick, Ph.D., the tour included stops and drive-bys of over a dozen diners throughout New Jersey.
Northern Jersey was once the heart of diner manufacturing, with more than a dozen diner manufacturers by the 1950s including O’Mahony, Kullman, Silk City Diners, and Mountain View Diners.
While I’m sharing highlights here from my day of diner exploration, consider jumping in your car and enjoying these spots on your own. Pro tip: To survive this diner tour, bring an empty stomach and pace yourself to enjoy all the pancakes, sliders, milkshakes, and more!
Our first stop of the day was in Summit, New Jersey, to visit the 1938 Summit Diner, a pre-World War II O’Mahony diner. We enjoyed a cup of coffee at this diner located at the edge of Summit’s downtown commercial district, a common practice during the railroad and streetcar era of the diner.
We ordered breakfast at the 1974 Nautilus Diner in Madison, followed by a stop at the Whippany Diner to pick up a box full of cake and pies. We then went to the Whippany Railway Museum to dig into cherry pie, chocolate cake, and carrot cake. (The Whippany Railway Museum sits on a branch of the Morristown and Erie Railroad and showcases historic steam locomotive trains.)
The Main Line Pizzeria in Little Falls is a great example of a little diner with exaggerated features such as a folded-plate roof. Little diners relied on eye-catching features to draw business.
Heading northwest, our next stop took us to Paterson and Hinchliffe Stadium. We admired the National Historic Landmark, constructed in 1932 and once the home of the New York Black Yankees.
As we crossed town, we explored the former Silk City diner factory. The Paterson Vehicle Company constructed diners under the name Silk City from 1927 to 1964. The former factory sits adjacent to the former New York, Susquehanna, and Western railroad line, which allowed diners to be shipped across the country.
We stopped at the White Manna in Hackensack and the White Mana in Jersey City to compare sliders. Both operated under the White Manna hamburger chain name, but now have different owners. The Jersey City location changed its name from White Manna to Mana as a result of a sign mistake, but the name change stuck as a way to differentiate the two locations.
The 1939 Jersey City White Mana is reported to be a prototype displayed at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. The circular diner features a circular counter surrounding the grill. We were treated to the delightful personality of the diner staff who even invited us to come behind the grill! When you’re in Jersey City, make sure to also swing by the Miss America diner.
Off NJ Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, you’ll find the 1947 Bendix Diner. With a stunning aluminum exterior, this diner was a favorite stop on the tour. Walking inside, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a time capsule with the long counter with stools, original turquoise tile floor, and the pink restroom/phone sign.
Our last stop, the Arlington Diner, provided a setting for our final meal: dinner. The 1966 Kullman was remodeled in the 1990s. Located in North Arlington on the Passaic, the large roof sign is beautifully lit at night.
Driving around New Jersey, you’ll gain an appreciation for diners as part of our American heritage. Because of the dominance of New Jersey diner manufacturers, you may find a diner from New Jersey in your own community.
Consider nominating your favorite endangered roadside resource for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s Falling by the Wayside, which calls attention to threatened roadside resources. In the meantime, support your local diner by visiting often and ordering one of everything!