American Diner Revival, Season 2: Before-and-After Transformations
Photo By: Anders Krusberg ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved
Vickie's Diner — Las Vegas
Vickie's Diner has been open 24/7 on the Las Vegas Strip since 1954. Peter Kelesis bought it in 1970 and ran it for 20 years before selling it to his nephew John and John's wife Vickie, for whom the diner was renamed. But in all that time, the diner has never been renovated. Loyal customer Michelle called in Ty and Amanda for their help in revitalizing the restaurant in hopes of re-energizing the slowing business.
Bringing Back the Glory
"We have to turn a relic into something real," Ty told Amanda after assessing all that needed to be upgraded. "With a nod to old-school Vegas," Amanda added. Ty planned on reupholstering the worn booths and stools, replacing the flooring, and creating a new and more organized wait station. His goal was to bring the diner back to its former glory, when the likes of Elvis and Liberace were customers.
Old School Is New Again
With a new pink-and-black color scheme, brass-colored wainscoting and a Vegas wall mural, Ty pulled off the cool old-school vibe he had hoped for. And with the help of John, Amanda created dishes that would bring in more customers for dinner: chicken pot pie, disco tots, pigs in blankets and a pineapple upside-down cake. "The whole thing is unbelievable," Vickie said upon seeing the changes.
SNS Truck Wash and Diner — Las Vegas
Located 15 minutes from the Strip, in North Las Vegas, SNS is a combination truck wash, truckers' lounge and, as of two years ago, diner. Owner Mike started the truck-wash business years ago to great success, but recent road construction has affected business. The diner has great barbecue, but no one seems to know about it. Mike's wife, Holly, and general manager, Celeste, called Ty and Amanda for help.
Dividing and Conquering
Immediately Ty sees the different areas lack clear identity: It's hard to tell where the lounge ends and where the restaurant starts. His first order of business will be to define the areas with a PVC partition wall. The worn booths need to be reupholstered, and the chipped countertops need to be replaced. Signage is also needed to direct truckers to the different areas.
Racing to the Finish Line
A new automotive theme replaced the tired interior. A checkered backdrop, new orange countertops and tables, yellow and orange accents on the walls, diamond plate wainscoting and tire-tread window treatments all play up the theme. And Amanda, using the restaurant's barbecue, added smoked chicken wings, smokehouse chili, a broccoli gratin with smoked bacon, and a steak-and-egg sandwich. "I'm a lucky guy for sure," said Mike after taking in all the changes.
El Cabanal — Jersey City, N.J.
When Nestor and Emma came to the United States from Ecuador, they dreamed of running a restaurant like they had back home. After many years of working hard toward that dream, they opened El Cabanal. Since then, however, ill health struck Emma, and the diner has fallen on hard times as well. The couple's children rallied and now work in the restaurant to help out, but more needs to be done to save this dream. Ty and Amanda were called in to help.
From the Inside Out
"We have to take this place from a drive-by diner ... and turn it into a diner destination," said Ty after seeing how difficult it was to find the diner because of its lack of signage and tucked-away location. He planned on transforming the exterior with fresh new paint to make the diner more noticeable, as well as upgrading the interior with new subway tiles, countertops, chairs and stools, all to replace the worn fittings.
While Ty worked on the design, Amanda put an Ecuadorian twist on a few diner classics, coming up with an Ecuadorean Reuben and a masa ball soup, as well as new breakfast items to appeal to a wider customer base. With the new colorful interior and upgraded exterior, the family really had something to be proud of. Emma and Nestor were overjoyed to see what their family and the community accomplished to help them during their time of need.
The Glenburn Grill and Bakery — Clarks Summit, Pa.
Allan and Linda Norsen opened The Glenburn Grill and Bakery seven years ago with the hope of making double the profits by having a bakery and a diner all in one. Unfortunately, the stresses of opening the bakery and the dwindling diner side of the business resulted in a series of strokes for Allan. The couple's son and daughter, Jay and Jess, called Ty and Amanda for their expert help.
Bakery from Scratch
The building's original renovation took four times as long as predicted, which put a financial drain on the family and meant less of a budget for the finishing touches. Secondhand tables, booths and chairs, and floor tile for counter tops didn't look good to begin with, but now everything is showing wear. And the space basically has two identities. Ty's job will be giving it a uniform look.
Forming a New Identity
Inspired by a French bakery, Ty and the team added wainscoting, wood floors, butcher-block counters and copper accents in the lighting and chairs. A new waiting area was created with the hope of keeping customers lingering for longer. And Amanda used the baked goods as inspiration for creating new dishes, including an eggs Benedict bread pudding, a sloppy joe on a pretzel bun, and toaster pastries. Allan and Linda now have a bakery they can proudly pass on to their kids.
Linda Kay's — Scranton
Couple Linda and James have had to put their marriage on hold while they try to keep Linda Kay's in Scranton afloat financially. The restaurant décor is in desperate need of help too. So James called in Ty and Amanda for their help while Linda goes out of town. In the meantime, the diner will get a remake and a wedding will be planned.
Replacing Rundown with Romance
With dingy carpets, worn countertops and missing barstools, the interior space is definitely in need of help. Linda's decorating efforts, although folky, as Ty called them, haven't helped hide the flaws. "Everything's got to change," said Ty, who planned a creative love-letter wall treatment, all-new laminate floors and countertops, and a maroon wall color to really drive home the romantic theme.
United at Last
Just before Linda returned, James dropped a bombshell: He wanted to marry Linda on that day. The team not only planned its usual reveal, but an impromptu wedding right in the diner too. Amanda's dishes, including the honey-lacquered chicken and red velvet whoopie pies, ended up turning into the reception meal. "They will never ever forget this day," said Amanda.
Andrews Diner — Wilton Manors, Fla.
In Wilton Manors, Fla., aka The Island City, the anchor of the community, Andrews Diner, is in danger of sinking. Owners Gerri and Angelo Karaliolios have been running it for the past 24 years, with little change, but all around them the community has changed: The recession has affected the diner's business, and operating costs have gone up. Luckily, a new generation is moving into the neighborhood, but the diner has to keep up if it's to survive. Longtime waiter Chuck called Ty and Amanda for their help.
Ty called the interior "bland and drab, which is completely unrepresentative of the colorful people of this community." He decided the best option was to repaint both the interior and the exterior with a bright yellow color, which would attract customers, but once the paint was up Chuck revealed his honest opinion that the owners might hate the color. So in a last-minute switcheroo, light blue went up in place of the yellow.
From Drab to Fab
The result was a bright and modern diner. Palm tree wallpaper added some flair to the boring walls. New, modern light fixtures replaced the dated ones. The booths and chairs were reupholstered in black. The marble countertops and tabletops were preserved. Amanda worked her magic on the menu, creating healthier options that included mahi-mahi ceviche, a protein wrap and a granola parfait. The city's mayor even came to declare the day Andrews Diner Day.
Anita's Grill — New Orleans
Die-hard Saints fan Arnold McCormick started out as a customer of Anita's Grill before buying his favorite game-day hangout in 1988. Since then he's weathered Katrina, but the diner has fallen on hard times, as new restaurants have opened up around it. Arnold has had to dip into his savings to keep the eatery open and pay his employees, including Dwana, who's been with the diner the longest. Arnold's son Sean called in Ty and Amanda for help.
As soon as Ty saw the condition of the diner, he knew he wanted to transform it from "rundown afterthought to a game-day destination" worthy of the Who Dat Nation. The exterior and interior were both in desperate need of some love. All the countertops needed to be replaced, and the space needed a theme that would attract new customers and a new menu from Amanda that would keep them there.
Using the Saints colors for inspiration, Ty brought in black subway tile, rust-colored paint and fleur-de-lis decals to dot the walls. New ceiling tiles, newly covered booths, stools and countertops all brought new life to the space. On the outside, the green accents were painted over with black. Amanda revamped the menu to include New Orleans favorites, such as an oyster po' boy, jambalaya, and shrimp and grits. "I feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world," said Arnold upon seeing the results.
El Mago de las Fritas — West Miami, Fla.
Opened by Cuban immigrants Eva and Ortelio Cardenas more than 30 years ago, El Mago de las Fritas (The Magician of Fritas), has fallen on hard times since Eva passed away. Their daughter Martha and her husband, Barry, have taken on helping in the diner almost like a second job. Barry and lifelong customer David contacted Ty and Amanda for help in revitalizing this Cuban establishment.
Making Modern Magic
To turn the eatery into a "modern-day slice of Havana," Ty worked his magic in replacing the worn surfaces, uncomfortable banquets and generally improving the flow. It all started with a new paint job in tropical colors, vintage tile to bring in the Old-World look, new tabletops made from reclaimed wood, new laminate countertops, new chairs, and new lighting fixtures and fans. A special sign made out of cigar boxes was the finishing touch.
Bringing Back Havana
Amanda loved the simplicity of the menu, which specializes in fritas, Cuban-style burgers. So without changing things, she decided to add more classic dishes to bring back the Cuban flair that had gone missing. Her dishes included a zucchini frita, a grilled pineapple salad and a new dessert that paid tribute to Eva. Both Ortelio and Martha were amazed by all the changes, and they loved the new dishes. "It means the world to me," Martha said of the revived restaurant. "My parents starting it from nothing."
Slim Goodies Diner — New Orleans
Slim Goodies Diner opened not long before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. After the storm, it was the first restaurant to reopen and begin serving the community. Behind it is owner Kathleen "Kappa" Horn, a former art teacher, who, over the years, has given back so much to her community and employees that the restaurant has fallen into disrepair. Manager Josh contacted Ty and Amanda for their help.
Reclaiming the Artsy Spirit
Ty put it best when he said his job would be transforming the space "from beat-up to Bohemian chic." Table surfaces were replaced with new laminate, booths and stools were reupholstered and the entire interior was painted. The most-noteworthy change of all was the addition of a chalkboard art wall to display all the photographs, which were previously hung haphazardly around the diner.
Food to Feed the Soul
Looking at the menu, Amanda found it needed a signature dish and a breakfast pastry. "I always wanted biscuits and gravy here," said Kappa when Amanda presented the gravy-and-biscuits dish. Amanda also created a blue plate special, a muffuletta sandwich and a praline sticky bun. Kappa was overwhelmed by the changes and touched by how the community rallied to help with the transformation.
Johny's Luncheonette — New York City
There are just a few classic, old-school luncheonettes left in New York City, and Johny's is one of them. Owner John Pilatos opened the tiny diner in 1998 and runs it with the help of his dad, a former diner owner himself, and his wife. Unfortunately, trends are changing in the Chelsea neighborhood, and if something isn't done soon to revive Johny's, there'll be one fewer luncheonette in the city.
From Old-Timey Classic to Stylish Hot Spot
John's wife, Desiree, called Ty and Amanda for help in breathing new life into the tired space. Ty's work was cut out for him. First the team tackled the interior, which included replacing the counter, reupholstering the stools, and adding new ceiling tiles, wainscoting and a mural. But the exterior awning also needed to be replaced with something more visually appealing to attract new customers.
Competing with the Neighborhood
To compete with the trendy offerings in the neighborhood, Amanda chose to add a black bean veggie burger and gluten-free banana pancakes, and to highlight Desiree's Italian heritage, she created an eggplant parmigiana hero. With the new dishes and new space, John couldn't believe the transformation. "My heart goes out to all of you for supporting us all these years," he thanked everyone who helped.
Hermitage Cafe — Nashville
The Hermitage Cafe in Nashville has been famous for feeding starving artists since the '50s. Sherri Callahan inherited the restaurant from her parents, who purchased it in the '90s. But because of rising food costs, and a new downtown scene that has been stealing away customers, the restaurant has fallen on hard times. Sherri's husband, Tyler, contacted Ty and Amanda for their help in revitalizing the local hangout.
"We have never encountered a diner in this bad a shape," Ty said after taking a tour of the space. Everything in the interior needed to be redone or replaced, especially the carpet, which had turned into "some new animal," said Tyler. "We've got to take something that's basically dingy and dive-y and turn it around into something funky and fresh," Ty told Amanda, who's working on breathing new life into the 25-year-old menu.
For the Next Generation
With fresh paint in a cool color scheme and new surfaces, tables and chairs, the renewed cafe captures the hipness it desperately needed. Amanda added food offerings like chicken-fried steak, hash brown pizza and pimento-cheese fries to attract a new late-night crowd while pleasing regulars. "I was privileged enough to work with my family, and I hope to give that opportunity to my children," said Sherri about the new cafe that she'll be proud to pass on.
Liz's Kitchen — Goodlettsville, Tenn.
In Goodlettsville, Tenn., just outside of Nashville, Liz's Kitchen has been serving up comforting Southern food since Liz and Bubba Darden bought the restaurant in 2010. But tough times, including the passing of the couple's son, Greg, have resulted in the restaurant's neglect. Veronica and Jamonica, the couple's daughter and granddaughter, called in Ty and Amanda for help to revive the restaurant and Liz's spirit.
A Cluttered Cafeteria
While Liz and Bubba were out of town at a catering gig, Ty planned on getting rid of all remnants of the previous cafe that Liz and Bubba bought all those years ago: repainting the dingy walls, putting up corrugated wainscoting and replacing the wobbly tables with tops made from recycled pallet wood. And the two most-important things were creating a new hostess station and an easy-to-clean hot bar.
New Meat and Three
While Ty refreshed the interior, Amanda took a look at revamping the menu. "We need some pizzazz," Veronica said of the current offerings. So Amanda created a chicken-and-waffles dish and three new sides to add to the restaurant's "meat and three" custom, as well as a fresh pulled pork salad. Liz and Bubba were overjoyed at the transformation and the community turnout.
The Greeks — Kearny, N.J.
In Kearny, N.J., The Greeks diner has been owned by the Koutsouris family since 1968. Locals consider it the center of town, and some customers have even said it's better than Facebook for catching up with friends. But owner John faces a slew of new chain restaurants moving into the area, and the restaurant could use some desperately needed TLC. John's childhood friend Mike contacted Ty and Amanda for their expertise.
Degreasing The Greeks
The biggest problem, according to Mike, is the accumulation of grease over many years. But as Ty noticed right away, it's time for more than just a cleanup. Ty brought the diner back to its glory days with an industrial retro feel and a cool gray-and-white color palette. All the surfaces were replaced with easy-to-clean materials: wallpaper and subway tile for the walls, and new vinyl for the booths and barstools. The team completely transformed the diner in 30 hours.
Long Live Greek Food
Amanda was shocked by the triple-bypass burger that was on the menu. She took it upon herself to create a new menu that's healthy enough to be eaten every day with a goal of bringing in new customers, more than just what's been the usual manly crowd. Her Greek-inspired meatball sub was met with compliments all around. She also expanded the dessert offerings with two pies and loukoumades, Greek mini doughnuts. John couldn't believe all the wonderful changes he saw and told everyone, "Hopefully I can be here for another 50 years."
Jack's Cafe — Westwood, N.J.
Jack's Cafe, run by husband-and-wife owners Chris and Risa D'Eletto, is a staple in the Westwood community. The couple and their blended family run the diner, which is an original boxcar from the 1950s, but you wouldn't know it from looking. Through the years the restaurant has lost its charm, and everything looks worn. Not to mention the restaurant's finances are getting difficult to manage. That's when Chris and Risa's kids called Ty and Amanda for help.
Bringing Back the Shine
Aiming to bring back the original look of the boxcar, Ty decided to add stainless steel finishes, along with a modern color scheme inspired by the owners' love for rock 'n' roll. Ty also addressed the problem areas that Chris' son Joe pointed out: the shabby counter that hid more clutter than anything and a pie case that overwhelmed the space. Records on the wall were used to display family photos.
Rockin' 'n' Rollin' Menu
With a massive menu that included 18 daily specials, Amanda's work was cut out for her. She created new dishes that would bring in new customers, including local commuters from the train station nearby. Her "Born to Run" hand pies were a hit with owner Chris. And the seven-layer lasagna was an ode to the family's Italian heritage and the couple's seven kids. "I'm touched beyond words," said Chris of the diner transformation. "I can't believe what you did," he told Ty and Amanda.
More American Diner Revival
Keep coming back every week for before-and-after photos of the diners Ty and Amanda renovate all across America, and get Amanda's creative recipes from the show.