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LG diner 'Joni's' aims for year-end opening


December 10, 2013 | 03:41 PM
It was more than a year ago that Joan and Kelly Yunker, Lake Geneva, were granted a conditional use permit by the city to put up a genuine O’Mahony diner at 111 Well St.

Progress has been slow, but the Yunkers haven’t given up and they still hope to have the diner open to customers before the end of this year.

And while it might seem a bit out of the ordinary for a business to open during the early winter in a city that does most of its business in summer, Joan Yunker said the diner, tentatively named Joni’s, will be aiming at the local customers.

The diner business will be family oriented. Shaye Yunker, daughter of Joan and Kelly, said that she will be spending a lot of her time there, managing the restaurant.

Although too busy for a sit-down interview, the Yunkers agreed to a Q&A by email.

RN: What made you decide on bringing an original diner to Lake Geneva?

Yunkers: We love the area. About 10 years ago we tried to buy the property on Highway 50 where the old Speedway was located.

That property ended up not being available and is now the sailboat park.

That property ended up not being available and is now the sailboat park.

(But) the idea of putting up a diner never left our minds. The hope is to create a place that brings back the sense of community, where one can come in for a good cup of joe and homemade blue plate specials served by a friendly staff that knows you by your first name.

RN: How and where did you find the diner you brought to Lake Geneva?

Yunkers: We got in contact with a man from Cleveland, Ohio, (Steve) who specializes in restoring old diners. We drove and saw some of the diners he had for sale. None of them felt like “the one.” Steve mentioned he knew of someone in Connecticut who was selling an original 1954 O’Mahony.

RN: I understand the diner was on the East Coast and it got caught in Hurricane Sandy. What kind of damage did it suffer?

Yunkers: Most of the damage from Hurricane Sandy came in the form of timing/scheduling. Because of the storm the delivery of the diner was set back about three months.

Also, a small part of the diner wasn’t fully closed up, which caused some damage from natural weather.

RN: How did you get it to Lake Geneva?

Yunkers: We hired a rigging company that specialized in moving super loads and diners. It came on two different semis which were each about 100 ft long weighing 115,000 pounds.

RN: What made you decide on it’s location in the city?

Yunkers: We purchased the property as an investment. After purchasing we revisited the idea that we had years ago to bring a diner to Lake Geneva. It seemed like a great location because it’s a busy street.

RN: What is the size of the lot, size of the diner, number of seats and number of parking stalls.

Yunkers: The lot is an irregular shape, but is roughly half of an acre. There are about 26 parking stalls. The diner seats about 71 people inside. We have 19 stools and 13 booths that sit four people each.

RN: According to Joan, there were a lot of unforeseen problems that seemed to conspire to slow down the renovation and restoration of the diner, and delay its opening. Can you recount some of them?

Yunkers: Because of the age and unique design the diner required extra engineering. When we were bringing it up to code we had to consider the structure and support of the diner before diving right in.

RN: What kind of investment are we talking about here?

Yunkers: The diner arrived Jan. 15, 2013, and we’ve been here almost every day since. As they always say, “time is money!”

The old-fashioned diners were the precursors of the modern fast food restaurants.

Individually owned, the diners resembled train dining cars from their silvery exteriors to their intimate dining booths and counter seating inside. Although they look like dining cars, most diners were never on wheels. They were designed from the start to be stationary restaurants.

According to the conditional use permit application filed by the Yunkers last year, the sit-down restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week. There will be no drive-thru.

The owners said they hope to employ 18 people.

The menu will reportedly include eggs, pancakes and waffles for breakfast, and sandwiches, salads and soups for lunch.

In a letter to the city, the Yunkers indicated they researched diners for nine years in order to bring this dining experience to Lake Geneva.

“We would like to contribute to the charm and small town feel of Lake Geneva through this establishment,” the Yunkers wrote.

The O’Mahony Co. built nearly 2,000 prefabricated diners between 1917 and 1954.

Only about 20 O’Mahony diners are known to still exist in the U.S.

After World War II, diners spread from the cities and small towns to highway strips in the suburbs.

But by the 1970s, many diners were superseded by fast food restaurants.

The well-known 1942 painting “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper depicts an urban diner and its occupants.

The nearest, genuine O’Mahony diner to Lake Geneva is Franks Diner in Kenosha. Transported by railcar and pulled into place by a team of horses, Franks Diner opened in 1926.

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