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Diner Culture
Four Sisters Owl Diner

Four Sisters Owl Diner

All of the restaurants featured in the book are neighborhood institutions with a large, local following and most have been in operation for at least 30 years. When I was searching for waitresses to interview it was very important that they worked in a diner or a coffee shop. What’s the difference? Well diners are prefabricated structures that can be moved to a site for business. They are mostly found in New England. During the late 1800s they were strategically parked across from factories to serve laborers on their lunch breaks. A coffee shop on the other hand does not have that “dining car” look and is not a prefabricated building that can be moved. Similar to a diner, a coffee shop is a casual restaurant that serves breakfast, often with a counter and stools. It was important that I find waitresses who were working in coffee shops and diners because I imagined that their work environment would be more relaxed and as a result they could be themselves, which is very liberating in the service industry.

Diners and coffee shops aren’t just for eating. They are places where Americans go to socialize, swap stories, make and break business deals, fall in love, break-up and get back together… all over coffee and pie. We nestle into the soft, worn, naugahyde booths, next to the frosty window with a neon sign. It’s a quintessential, American experience, a casual eatery where simple pleasures are fulfilled. The food isn’t always good, but it’s usually familiar, sometimes the coffee is weak and grey with age, and the hash browns may be overcooked, but most people don’t come just for the food anyway. All walks of life come and go. The camaraderie among familiar faces at the counter creates a comfortable atmosphere for the staff and the customers. People don’t feel as though they need to edit their thoughts or behavior as they might if there were eating in an upscale restaurant. It feels like home. Jodell at the Pie ‘N Burger in Pasadena, California says, “Some regulars come in 2 and 3 times a day. I’ve served four generations of the same families. It’s like a small town in here.”

Jodell at the Pie 'N Burger.  Pasadena, California

Jodell at the Pie 'N Burger. Pasadena, California


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I’ve eaten in many a diner. Whether it was a cross country Trailways bus ride in the seventies, or a truck stop in towns like Mesquite TX, Lordsburg NM, or Cordelia, CA, I love the independent restaurant. I have very little use for fast food places. The following story is just one reason why.
As a kid, my mom used to take me to River Edge Diner in NJ once a week. It was nothing more then a train passenger car with a kitchen and a counter. Used to order a hamburger and a chocolate shake for breakfast every time we went till I was about Ten. Left to live in Israel. Ten years later I moved back to the same town and stayed with my dad.
Without thinking about it went to the same diner for breakfast when I first moved back. Ordered a hamburger and a chocolate shake. The waitress knew my name, where I haven’t been in town for ten years. I asked her how she new me. She said she remembered me from back then, even all grown up, I was the only one she ever had who made that order for breakfast.

Comment by Erich Dusedau

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