You might not expect to see a pristine 1950's diner as you’re driving down the winding back roads of quiet Columbia County NY, but thanks to the vision of owner Dale Strong the Elizaville Diner awaits you, nestled next to a picturesque little pond.
The story of the Elizaville diner and how it came to be here follows the origins of many vintage diners.
You see, most vintage diners were constructed in a factory and designed to be portable. Once a restaurateur decided to purchase a diner, the diner would have to be trucked - in sections - from the factory to the new owner’s location, and the diner would be established there.
Because of these modular origins, it is sometimes possible to uproot a vintage diner from its foundation and move it to another location. So while the land below the diner may be sold for other uses, the diner itself would not necessarily have to be demolished - IF there is someone who wants the diner and is able to move it.
This is just what happened with the diner we now know as the Elizaville diner!
Built in 1956 in Newark New Jersey by the Kullman Dining Car company, it was originally moved from the diner factory to Lebanon Pennsylvania, where it opened as the Eat Well diner.
This is the Eat Well when it was in Lebanon, circa 2005:
Fast forward fifty years, where there were two things happening simultaneously that would change the history of this shiny diner:
ONE: In Lebanon, the Eat Well diner’s lot had been sold to make way for a car dealership, so the future of the diner was uncertain.
TWO: almost 250 miles northeast of the Eat Well diner, deli owner Dale Strong was looking for a unique addition to his Elizaville Deli. Having grown up in Ithaca New York, Dale recalled that his favorite restaurants there were diners, so he thought a diner might be a distinctive addition to his business. He got in touch with Roadside Magazine’s creator Randy Garbin, who had started a Diners For Sale newsletter.
“Randy Garbin helped (us) a ton.” Notes Dale, “It was his listing and phone call to tell me this one was available, but I would have to act fast. He was very devoted to getting me connected with a diner to save and showed up on-site to many I looked at.”
Dale looked at a number of diners, but the Eat Well caught his eye. Upon closer inspection it did have good bones, but it was a diamond in the rough for a number of reasons, including the fact that the owners had “remuddled” it with a mansard roof, removing the counter stools and obscured many of the diners distinctive features.
“A woody vine was growing through the handicapped door which was bolted shut. The stools were missing and replaced by booths on one side, and modern stools on the other. But" he added, “I took a night vision camera with me and asked permission to climb on a ladder and stick my camera under the added soffit and facade. I could see all the original details under the false front and roof additions. I also noticed the additions weren't nailed on, but silicone caulked on.”
Dale saw the potential in the diner, but had to act fast, as the diner was scheduled to be demolished to make room for the car dealership. He and the owner wrote up a contract on-the-spot, covering everything from basement to mansard roof.
Two days before the diner was slated to be torn down, Dale and crew returned to Lebanon to move the diner.
“The most incredible day was seeing if uncovered.
Seeing it for the first time had everyone in awe, including the past owner.
He said he never knew it looked like that.”
The move also literally unearthed some original parts of the diner.
“We found all the original stools and other missing parts in the basement. Some of it was partially buried in dirt, but I dug them out. The basement had a lot of water and septic leaks, so it wasn't a clean endeavor, but we kept looking for what was missing until we found it.”
The diner was disassembled into its 3 original modular pieces moved to Elizaville.
The diner was then restored to her former glory and reopened!
Many original details from the original Eat Well era can still be found, including the “Jefferson Golden Hour Mystery Clock” above the door as identified by Spencer Stewart on his visit to the Eat Well in 2006:
The Seeburg Consolettes at each table still bear the name of the diner's previous incarnation:
Since the diner has been in its current location, things are going well, and we had a lovely visit ourselves!
There's plenty of room now that the booths and stools are in their proper place, and our breakfast was delicious.
“We have had many compliments from people that used to eat or work at the diner while in PA. Some have driven up to see it, and they couldn't believe how nice it turned out. They were happy it found a good home and now is in a rural waterfront setting compared to a highway strip of eateries and shops.”
Add us to the list of thumbs-uppers and well-wishers. So glad Dale was able to save this vintage diner from being pummeled into the ground in PA, and happy to see it have a new lease on life!
PS - you might recognize the Elizaville if you’ve seen the book “Diners of New York” by Michael Engle and Mario Monte. It's on the cover!
And if you’ve never seen that book, click above or below to buy your copy!