During the mid-1930s Arthur Valentine, owner of a series of small cafes in the Wichita, KS area known as the “Valentine Lunch System” and an ex-car salesman originally from Illinois, purchased a prefabricated lunch building from the Ablah Hotel Supply Company in Wichita for one of his restaurants. Valentine was very impressed with the building and ended up working with Ablah as one of their salesmen. In 1938, he took over Ablah’s premanufactured building division and transformed it into Valentine Manufacturing, Inc.
For the next 36 years, Valentine Manufacturing would churn out thousands of small portable, metal diners that would be set up all across the USA. Production of these diners really took off after World War II ended and the manpower and materials needed for preconstructed buildings were freed up for civilian usage. Not to mention the explosion of motorists hitting America’s highway during the 1940s and 1950s. Valentine diners could be found in large cities, small towns, and even along remote highways. Basically any roads that had a decent amount of interstate commerce and auto traffic (most notably, the legendary Route 66 highway that stretched from Illinois to California) that could turn a profit for the diner’s owners and help the owner repay Valentine’s for the cost of building and transporting the diner.
With their distinctive box shape, flying buttress corners, metal construction, streamline trim, and angled neon sign hanging over the entrance, Valentine diners became a symbol of mid-20th century Americana. The interior, which often featured black and white-tiled floors, a small row of barstools, and a jukebox in the back corner, set the standards for 1940s-1950s restaurants that endures up to this very day in retro-themed restaurants. Most importantly of all, Valentine diners were built from high-quality materials and were made to last. Which is why some of these buildings are still in existence today. Many are still going strong as restaurants. Others have been turned into other businesses, museum exhibits, or even private residences. And others are dying lonely deaths as abandoned and derelict buildings dotting the Midwest landscape that have fallen prey to vandals, weather damage, and natural deterioration.
Below are ten Valentine (and Valentine-style) diners, past and present:
1.) Brint’s Diner (Wichita, KS). This world-famous Wichita diner began operating in 1960 as Hunt’s Diner. A few months after its opening, Hunt’s diner changed hands a couple of times until it was purchased by Robert Brincefield, who replaced the ‘Hu-‘ in ‘Hunt’s’ with ‘Br-‘ and hence the name!
With the exception of a brief period of time around 2003-2004 when the diner temporarily closed, Brint’s Diner became one of Wichita’s dining hotspots over the next few decades. And as other Valentine diners in the area have buckled up and closed due to the onslaught of fast-food restaurant and national restaurant chains (among other factors), Brint’s has remained a popular restaurant in the city.
When the building was originally constructed by Valentine Manufacturing, it was built to seat 37 people. During the 1970s, Brint’s Diner was so popuar that they had Valentine expand it to seat 71. And at this point in time. Valentine Manufacturing had become the Valentine division of Wichita company Pyramid Manufacturing, Inc.
At the end of 2012, Brint’s Diner was shut down due to, according to its owners at the time, construction work in the vicinity which impacted its business. Brint’s reopened in a new location with many pieces (or possibly the entire Valentine diner itself was moved?) of the old diner incorporated into its new home.
2.) Red Top Diner (Edgewood, NM). The Red Top Diner was a Valentine Aristocrat model that was located along Route 66 in Magdalena, NM for many decades, serving patrons coming in off the highway in that neck of the woods until it closed its doors.
In 2006, it was purchased by Jerry Ueckert and relocated to Edgewood, where it has been undergoing extensive renovation since then.
3.) Cindy’s Diner (Fort Wayne, IN). Cindy’s Diner has remained one of Fort Wayne’s most popular diners for the past six decades, albeit under different incarnations.
It first opened its doors in 1952 as Noah’s Ark and from there on changed hands and names multiple times and moved to a number of different locations across the city until 1988. Not long after that, it closed for a couple of years and after an extensive renovation, reopened in 1990 as Cindy’s Diner and has carried that name ever since.
As Noah’s Ark, it was one of Ft. Wayne’s first fast food restaurants. During the 1960s when it was known as Paul’s Diner, it was a popular hangout and a dining hotspot.
As Cindy’s Diner, it has served the people of Ft. Wayne and beyond an awesome breakfast! Most notably is its “Monster” breakfast dish, as well as the donut machine it inherited from the old Murphy’s Dime Store in 1997. In 2014, the diner was moved again some 1 1/2 blocks down from the location it called home for nearly a quarter of a century in order to make way for a housing development.
Cindy’s can seat 15 people at any time and is usually open from 6 AM-2 PM, which makes it a breakfast and lunch only establishment.
4.) Twin Arrows Trading Post (between Winslow and Flagstaff, AZ). One of the most famous and iconic Valentine diners of all was the cafe that was part of Arizona’s Twin Arrows Trading Post.
Located along the Arizona stretch of Route 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Twin Arrows was one of the highway’s most famous attractions. In fact, it was one of the quintessential roadside stops for anyone driving down Route 66 during the mid and late 20th century. The twin arrows sticking out of the ground became an icon of Route 66 and still remains so today. As was the main attraction: The Southwest-style curio shop. The Twin Arrows Trading Post is a place that many “baby boomers” have fond memories of visiting as children with their families during its heyday of the 1950s and 1960s.
The little Valentine diner is located next to the large square curio shop. It was a place where travelers could get a quick bite to eat before heading out to explore all the other attractions that Route 66 had to offer!
Sadly enough, Twin Arrows Trading Post closed in 1998 and the trading post, gas station and diner have all sat abandoned and vandalized in their lonely vacant lot by the roadside since then.
5.) Lenox Drive-In (Enid, OK). A staple of Enid, Oklahoma since 1953, Lenox Drive-In has cooked up many countless thousands of delicious burgers, fries, shakes and more in their Valentine Burger Bar since then, and has earned an over six-decade long reputation for being one of the best places to buy a burger in the city!
6.) Little Juarez Diner (Glenrio, TX/NM). This Valentine-style diner is an intriguing little building that, while not being a true Valentine diner (or an operational diner period), still deserves an entry in this list!
The Little Juarez Diner – or Brownlee Diner as it was also known – was built in 1952 when Route 66 was still the way to travel across the southwest USA and Glenrio was a booming highway town that straddled the Texas and New Mexico state lines. This was also the time when Valentine diners were still in their heyday as well, and could be found scattered all across Route 66. The Little Juarez Diner was a concrete building built in the fashion of the Valentine diners complete with streamline trim and an art deco-style roof and sign.
Throughout the 1950s-1960s, travelers and truckers driving down this lonely stretch of Route 66 could depend on the Little Juarez Diner for a quick meal or a cup of coffee.
However, after Interstate 40 was built a couple of miles away during the late 1960s and 1970s, Glenrio almost instantly became a ghost town. Naturally, Little Juarez diner ended up closing its doors during this time and was doomed to sit forlorn and abandoned for the next several decades.
During the late 1990s and 2000s, various historical societies started making efforts to protect the sites along Route 66 and a number of the buildings of Glenrio were among the buildings designated historical sites by the US government and added to the National Register of Historical Places in both Deaf Smith County, TX and Quay County, NM. The Little Juarez Diner was one of Glenrio’s buildings that were added to both registries.
7.) Charlie’s Restaurant (Cleveland, OH). Having served the city of Cleveland, Ohio since 1952, Charlie’s Restaurant – also known as the Doghouse Diner and Charlie’s Doghouse Diner – has been located in the same Valentine diner (which has undergone a number of renovations and additions over the years) ever since.
Charlie’s eventually became part of a chain of hot dog restaurants known as The Dog House Chain which opened in northern OH during the 1970s-1980s or so. That chain included some other Valentine diner-based restaurants as well, such as the restaurant now known as Merry’s Dairy Barr in Canton.
Charlie’s Restaurant is still famous for its hot dogs as well as its malted waffles!
8.) King’s Chef Diner (Colorado Springs, CO). Who would think that a Valentine diner could be turned into a castle? King’s Chef Diner in Colorado Springs, CO has done just that! The purple diner with a castle roof makes it stand out among Colorado Springs’s restaurants and makes for a special culinary experience for the patrons who drop in to sample the cuisine!
King’s Chef Diner has been a part of Colorado Springs since 1956 and has made a few moves across the city since then. Over the years, it has won a number of awards including the Best Diner in America, Best Diner in Colorado, and Best Diner West of the Mississippi. It has been featured twice on the Food Network, who also awarded it their Best Breakfast in Colorado award. And according to the vast majority of people who have eaten there, the food at King’s Chef Diner’s lives up to its reputation and does not disappoint! Their green chili and burgers are nationally-famous and their breakfast items are also highly popular among customers.
King’s Chef’s has become so popular that they have had expand the restaurant well beyond the 13-seat diner originally constructed by Valentine Manufacturing!
9.) Nancy’s Little Giant (Wilmington, OH). Housed in a very early 1946 Valentine Aristocrat diner, Nancy’s Little Giant has served the Wilmington, Ohio community for just as long!
As of mid-2019, however, Nancy’s Little Giant has been closed for renovations, which aim to restore the building to its original 1940s appearance.
10.) Hayes Hamburgers and Chili (Kansas City, MO). A legendary restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, Hayes Hamburger and Chili has been housed in the same Valentine since 1955. Their chili recipe, which dates back to the restaurant’s founding in 1906, is famous all across the KC area!
Know of any other Valentine diners you’d like to share with us? Or have any updates about any of the above diners and restaurants? Feel free to share any and all info in the Comments section below!
https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/valentine-diners-kansas-wichita-13/18878 (Brint’s Diner at the Kansas Historical Society.)
http://www.legendsofamerica.com/tx-glenrio.html (Write-up about Glenrio from the Legends of America website.)
https://web.archive.org/web/20160304225539/http://michaelwitzel.com/ontheroad/arthur-valentines-portable-diners/(A post from a now-defunct blog about Arthur Valentine’s portable Valentine diners.)
https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/valentine-diners-indiana-fort-wayne-02/18858 (Profile of Cindy’s Diner at the Kansas Historical Society’s Kansaspedia.)
https://www.facebook.com/Twin-Arrows-Trading-Post-767379229987962/ (A Facebook page dedicated to the history of and latest news regarding the status of Twin Arrows Trading Post.)
https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/valentine-diners-ohio-wilmington/18849 (Entry at the Kansas Historical Society’s database of Valentine diners regarding Nancy’s Little Giant and its current operational status.)
https://www-1.kansas.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/carrie-rengers/article226824409.html (Article from the Wichita Eagle about the 2019 reopening of Brint’s Diner.)
(Picture caption: An abandoned Valentine-style diner in Glenrio, TX along the old Route 66 at the Texas-New Mexico state line. Used via Wordbuilder and Wikimedia Commons per CC Attribution 3.0 Unported license.)
[This blog post was originally published at my old Night Owl Highways blog on 27 May 2016 and republished/revised here at NOI on 29 July 2019.]