American Diner Revival: Before-and-After Transformations
Photo By: Anders Krusberg ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved
Walker's Diner — Farmville, Va.
Even with just 15 seats, Walker's Diner is a favorite hangout with townies and college kids. It started as Little Chef Diner in the 1950s, but it changed owners a number of times before New Jersey native Arlene purchased it in 2007. Even with restaurant experience, Arlene has found the diner's small capacity, its upkeep, and rising food and utility costs challenging. Two of Arlene's favorite customers, college students Jeff and Jordan, called Ty and Amanda for help.
Quaint But Cramped
From his first impression, Ty called the diner a "charming little spot." But his second thought was, "What a tiny little spot." A bright two-tone color palette helped make the space feel larger, and a new laminate bar counter and new floor brought a freshness to the tiny dining room. But the transformations weren't limited to the inside: Ty and the volunteer college students painted the exterior and added more seats to an area that previously hadn't even been considered.
Thinking Outside of the Box
To expand seating, Ty and the crew built an outdoor patio, first hiding unsightly utilities with fences, then installing metal edging to demarcate the patio from the parking lot, and finally adding gravel. Meanwhile, Amanda took over the menu and worked on bringing some Southern flair, which customers had asked for. The new menu now includes a fried chicken biscuit sandwich, a smoked ham sandwich and an ice cream sandwich. "The food that Amanda prepared is exciting," said owner Arlene.
Rallying Around "Mom"
"This moment is absolutely overwhelming," said Arlene upon seeing the diner transformation, and the backyard seating took her by surprise. "It just fills me with such warmth and gratitude," she said, thankful for the support of the community, including the local college students. "Whoever brought you both to me is like God's blessings," Arlene told Ty and Amanda. But it couldn't have been possible without Jeff and Jordan, the frat guys who affectionately call Arlene "Mom."
Red Hots Coney Island — Highland Park, Mich.
Red Hots Coney Island has been a Detroit area fixture since 1921. Featuring the region's famous Coney Dogs and owner Rich's secret-spiced chili, the diner has drawn faithful customers for years. But the economic downturn affected this family business, as Rich's wife, Carol, pointed out there haven't been new customers in quite a while; the deteriorating decor and limited menu aren't helping. The owners' kids, Christina and Richie, who work in the diner as well, called Ty and Amanda for help.
Blast from the Past
Rich had always wanted to bring the diner back to its 1950s heyday, and that's exactly what Ty had in store. With the help of Rich's family and longtime customers, Ty pulled off a classic diner checkerboard floor, custom-printed wallpaper with a bold design, and vintage-inspired chairs, stools and booths. Plus, at Christina's request, Ty added a window from the kitchen so Rich can see his customers.
Classic Flavors, Retro Feeling
While Ty and the crew took over the diner, including the kitchen, Amanda was forced to cook outside. She showed the owners' daughter, Christina, and Grandma Jean a few new dishes, including desserts, which customers have been demanding (because they're not on the current menu). Amanda created a classic icebox cake and ice cream floats, including cherry and mocha, featuring a local coffee roast.
A Spiced-Up New Space
"I didn't know I had this many friends," said Rich (center) upon seeing the turnout. "I'm going to see if she did it right," said Rich as he tasted Amanda's pulled pork sandwich using his own secret spice blend. "The spices set it off," Rich admitted. "I can't wait to get back to work," Rich told them, excited about the new space, which was everything he hoped the diner would be. "You guys definitely made our dreams come true," said Carol (to Rich's right).
Dena's Family Restaurant — Monroe, Mich.
Originally from Greece, Dena Vourakis came to Monroe, Mich., by way of Canada and purchased Al's Diner about 15 years ago. Since then nothing has really changed much about the diner, but customers keep coming, as one pointed out, because "it feels like home." Waitress Melissa called Ty and Amanda for help, worried that the restaurant wouldn't last a year because of rising food costs.
Out with the Old
"Every corner of the restaurant is falling apart," Melissa told Ty. "It's like walking into your aunt's 1972 living room and wishing you didn't have to stay for dinner," Ty said once he saw the interior. "As a chef this is the ick factor right here," Amanda said of the carpeting, which has probably been around since the diner first opened in the 1950s. And Dena's corner office needed some special attention.
A Home Away from Home
Ty's goal was to transform the space into "a homey family-style restaurant" to match Dena's motto, and he did just that with help from volunteers. Ty brought in the colors of Greece and added warmth with a rustic wood laminate floor, woven-seat barstools and country light fixtures. Amanda concentrated on creating family-style dishes: a breakfast grinder, a Canadian poutine and a classic Greek spinach pie.
"Where Friends Are Family"
"You see these things happen to other people, but you never think it would happen to you," Dena told Ty and Amanda upon seeing the changes. Tasting Amanda's spanakopita, Dena couldn't get over how familiar it tasted: "If I close my eyes, I can see my mom cooking," she told Amanda. As Ty and Amanda said their goodbyes, Amanda reminded Dena that they came in as new friends, and Dena added, "But you're leaving as my family."
George's Place — Carmel, N.Y.
George's Place has been the heart of Carmel since 1978 — because of late owner George's big Greek personality and generous heart. After George's death 10 years ago, Gus, George's son, and Karen, Gus' wife, took over running the diner. Since then the menu's lost its Greek charm. Amanda came in to show Gus' son George some new items that riff on the family's heritage.
Finding the Diner's Soul
Besides the food, the diner's decor also suffered through the years. Paige, the owners' niece, who, like many family members, works at the diner, called in Ty and Amanda for help. She pointed out the stained ceiling tiles, tired booths and low bar counter that's uncomfortable for customers as well as staff. Ty and Amanda noticed the diner had an identity crisis: farmhouse on the outside and diner on the inside.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
The team transformed the dining room into a warm space, ridding it of its drabness with some fresh paint and new upholstery. "I didn't know if it was the same place," said Karen. A new heightened counter made the space much more serviceable. Local roofers fixed the leak, so there won't be any more stained ceiling tiles. "Take care of people, and they'll take care of you," Gus said was his father's motto.
It's All Greek to Me
To help the owners deal with the rising food costs, Amanda turned to local farms for sourcing produce, pared down the menu, making it less confusing, and fixed the price points. All the while she made sure to inject the dishes with Greek touches, like the Big Greek Gus Burger, and she created a breakfast dish to honor the town, the Carmel Big Apple Waffle. "Everything that I ate was unbelievable," said Gus.
Johnny Cakes — Nyack, N.Y.
Friends Ben, Brian and Mike bought the place, originally known as the Skylark Diner, from the original owner about five years ago and renamed it to honor their late friend John. The community of Nyack, N.Y., consider Johnny Cakes their home away from home and hated to see it in such bad shape. Manager Dave contacted Ty and Amanda for help.
The Before: A Truly Greasy Spoon
"The grease is just embedded," Dave explained to Ty, who felt the place had "lost its charm." To sum up the state of the diner: torn dining chairs, booths that rock back and forth, and dingy surfaces, among other things. Longtime server Carol complained about the waitress station, which had seen better times and no longer functioned.
The After: A Bright Retro Charmer
Ty and the team worked on installing brand-new booths, a new waitress station and new laminate surfaces, and they painted the walls a vibrant green color. Amanda tackled the menu, showing the cook a new take on the diner's signature Johnnycakes: a savory bagel and lox-inspired creation. And she presented a trio of sliders, each with a matching milk shake.
In Honor of John's Memory
"He's laughing, he's loving it," said Brian (left), when Ty asked the three owners what John would have thought of the diner's transformation. "He set it up," said Mike (center). "To come in today is like a breath of fresh air," said Ben (right). Upon tasting the new menu items, Ben called the Johnnycakes "tremendous," and Mike thought the sliders were "something no one else does," and could bring in a new dinner crowd.
The Diner — Norman, Okla.
After beginning its life a century ago as a chili parlor, The Diner was reinvented by late owner Mark Amspacher about a decade ago, but since his death it's fallen on hard times. Although his famous chili is still sold, the menu needed a jolt, and Chef Amanda stepped in to show the cooks a few new recipes, including Brisket Hash and Southwestern Meatloaf.
The Before: Grungy and Worn
Waitress Shelly May called Ty and Amanda for their help. "Sadly it hasn't been remodeled since the 1950s," she told them. The laminate on the walls was worn, the booths were falling apart and the vinyl was cracked. Not to mention that the countertops and tabletops are faded, porous "and — I hate to say it — sticky," Amanda observed.
The After: Warm and Inviting
With just 36 hours, Ty had his work cut out. While Amanda was giving the menu a Southwestern spin, Ty and the community rallied together. The results: new walls, newly upholstered booths, a new countertop and rustic wood accents, all completed in time for the owners' surprise early return. "I can't believe what we pulled off," said Ty.
"Food Is Love"
"She hit it on the spot," owner Claire Amspacher (right) said of Amanda's new menu items. Her daughter Bonnie couldn't get over how Ty and the team reinvented the interior: "It's just so much," she said, taken aback by all that was done by the community. "I feel the love." The reborn diner will now be able to keep Mark's legacy alive.
More American Diner Revival
Keep coming back every week for before and after photos on the diners Ty and Amanda renovate all across America, and get Amanda's creative recipes from the show.