Why is New Jersey the Diner Capital of the World?
What do you get when you combine a vast public transportation system, close proximity to metropolitan hubs Philadelphia and NYC, and eggs, sunny side up? Apparently, you get New Jersey’s claim to “Diner Capital of the World.”
When you consider the need for pit stops and delicious food on the go, along with the fact that NJ is the most densely populated state, it should come as no surprise that the Garden State is also known as the Diner Capital of the World, boasting approximately 525 diners in total. So what’s the story behind this quirky claim to fame?
In order to understand the history behind New Jersey’s plethora of diners, you’ll have to go back to 1872, when the first diner was created. Most diners of the time were owned and run by Greek-American immigrant families, and were commonly known to be a symbol of American optimism. The all-American diner continues to be a cultural staple that quickly became a ubiquitous and characteristic part of life in the northeastern U.S., and particularly of New Jersey.
Part of the reason diners have become so plentiful in the Garden State is that it was home to the biggest diner manufacturer in the world, the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company. O’Mahony has been credited with creating and popularizing the traditional diner, which is characterized by a long, narrow building reminiscent of a railroad car that made it easy to transport via train.
The distinct architecture, menu, and décor of American diners have come to be a key part of the appeal of the diner industry. Diners have created small business opportunities in suburban towns and offer fast, hot food at a decent price—an ideal option for truck drivers, bar-goers, and people on the road. Though traditionally many were family-owned, today some are chains.
While the constant change and evolution in style, cuisine, and technology pose a threat to the diner industry, New Jersey’s gems have managed to survive and prosper, remaining competitive against chain restaurants and other popular eateries. As such, New Jersey has been able to maintain and embrace their love for diners, quickly becoming known country-wide for their impressive diner scene.
Virtually all remaining diners hold true to their roots, showcasing the vintage and retro-styled décor that serve as a sort of time capsule for American life in the 1900s, when diners were first popularized. Neon signs, shiny metal stools, and hot and ready breakfast foods have become part of the landscape of NJ, and are part of what draw tourists from all over to check out some of the best diner food around.
As Diner Capital of the World, New Jersey is a proud, and understandably so, title holder. Juicy American burgers, perfectly average hot coffee, vintage vanilla milkshakes, decent chicken dinners, and of course, the crowd-favorite hot cakes, are all comfort foods that we all can’t help but love. They are diner staples, and more importantly, Jersey staples, that make visiting or passing through the Garden State an unexpected treat.