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The ladies who lunch

I saw a lot of diners on my road trips for New England Neon. Now I’m no expert on these establishments, but I did learn a few things along the way.

Miss Florence is one of New England's diners

Here’s the streamlined sign above the Miss Florence Diner

Diners are said to have originated in Providence, Rhode Island, in the 1800s when Walter Scott (not the Ivanhoe guy) began selling food to factory workers. Scott’s venture, which used a horse-drawn wagon, eventually evolved into the diners we know today. These were manufactured off site – New Jersey and Massachusetts were manufacturing hubs – and transported to their desired location.

Diners are well represented across New England, especially those manufactured by the Massachusetts-based Worcester Lunch Car Company. WLCC manufactured 651 diners between 1906 and 1957. Many are gone, and others have been altered beyond recognition. Some of the still-operating Worcester models I  encountered included the Rosebud (Somerville, Massachusetts), Day and Night (Palmer, Massachusetts), Boulevard (Worcester, Massachusetts), Miss Portland (Portland, Maine), Chelsea Royal (West Brattleboro, Vermont), and the Misses Florence and Mendon (in the Massachusetts communities of Northampton and Mendon, respectively). 

Much to my surprise, diners were apparently once considered a little unsavory. To better attract women customers, some eateries feminized their names. The fabulous Miss Florence Diner – known locally as Miss Flo – had the most exuberant sign, more than earning her spot in the book, but I also encountered Miss Portland, the newly refurbished Miss Mendon, and several of their non-neon sisters. Henry’s Diner, in Burlington, Vermont, used a different strategy. Original owner Henry Couture spruced up his diner with “feminine frills” – awnings and flowers and menu items designed to appeal to women. And the Chadwick Square Diner in Worcester, Massachusetts, offered “Tables for Ladies.”

So here’s to the ladies who lunch. (And one for Mahler!)

Want to bring Miss Flo home? Click here for more information.

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