With about a dozen or so locations over the decade-and-a-half the national chain was represented in Western New York, Red Barn was one of Buffalo’s more popular fast-food joints in the 1970s.
When the store opened across Main Street from the UB South Campus (in a building that is now a Subway restaurant), an ad invited readers to “discover what’s new in delicious top quality food, big helpings, quick self-service, and unbelievably modest prices.”
Known for hamburgers like the “Big Barney” and the “Barnbuster,” Red Barn also served up fried chicken by the bucket or barrel.
The remaining Buffalo stores closed in the early ’80s and the last Red Barns in the country closed in 1988.
Several former locations in the Buffalo area retain the trademarked barn-like shape of the franchise’s logo.
A butcher shop is located in the former Kensington Avenue location in Snyder, and there’s a sporting goods store inside the former Sheridan Drive location in Tonawanda next to Ted’s Hot Dogs.
The 1880 map of the City of Buffalo loses its way as it gets to the most northern reaches of Buffalo, so it’s a bit difficult to tell which, if any, of the drawings represent the Erie County Almshouse, but the institution was a landmark on what was then the rural northern border of the City of Buffalo.
Today, the august limestone building that was built as the “Insane Department” of the county poor house is now UB’s Hayes Hall. Hayes Hall was famously taken over in March 1969 by students protesting the Vietnam War. It was also the site of marches and protests during the much larger and widespread student protests in 1970.
Next door is Wende Hall, which was built in 1885 as the maternity ward for what had become the Erie County Hospital.
That’s what remains of the above ground, but there is still more underfoot. As many as 3,000 of Erie County’s poor were anonymously buried across what is now the UB Campus. As the campus has expanded over the years, construction has unearthed many of the remains.
In 2012, work to replace sewer lines on the South Campus had to wait while another, more personal excavation took place first. UB archaeologists and students removed crumbling coffins, interred more than a century ago, that held the remains of more than 300 men, women and children who died at the almshouse between 1850 and 1913.
Some still had with them remnants of their impoverished lives – shreds of clothing, rosaries and crosses, and deteriorating books and newspapers, most of them in German and French.
There’s something about eating in a diner that makes us feel closer to some unique piece of America that exists only in our peripheral vision these days.
While diner car restaurants were popping up in various forms around the country from the 1920s through the 1960s, here in the City of Buffalo, the dining category defined by quick, cheap food served in a sparse, sometimes questionable environment was dominated Deco Restaurants.
In the 1940s, there were more than 50 tiny Deco lunch counter restaurants tucked into every neighborhood in Buffalo, in much the same way that other big cities of the time had diners.
The good news is that the pre-fab diners that dotted America’s landscape were made to be moved, so just because Buffalo didn’t have any diners during the diner heyday doesn’t mean we can’t eat in authentic, decades-old manufactured diner cars today.
And as we learn about the pre-Buffalo history of the city’s two very popular diners, we also see that while the unique American institution of the diner is new to these neighborhoods, the style of service existed in the uniquely Buffalo institution of the Deco Restaurant within a block or two of both places.
Lake Effect Diner
What we know as the Lake Effect Diner today was manufactured in 1952, one of 400 or so built by the Mountain View Diners Co. in Singac, N.J. It began life in Wayne, P.A., as the Main Line Grille.
Elsie D’Ignazio was a cook there, and when the business came up for sale, she bought the place.
The place operated as the Wayne Diner for about 20 years; then it was sold and became Orient House Chinese restaurant. A few years later, the place was renamed China Buddha Restaurant and was an area landmark known as much for its giant red, green and white sign as its cuisine
Lake Effect owner Tucker Curtain bought the diner and went to great lengths to bring it back to its original look, with lots of stainless steel and pink tiles. Today you’ll find the Lake Effect Diner on Main Street in University Heights.
While the people of Wayne, P.A., were eating meatloaf at the Wayne Diner, people at Main and Englewood — a few blocks from where the diner now stands — were eating at Deco Restaurant.
Built as a Deco Restaurant, for decades, the building was home to Chabad House. Currently, the storefront is back to its restaurant roots as the home of Wholly Crepe.
Swan Street Diner
With baked enamel walls and mahogany window trim, the classic Newark Diner opened in 1939.
Only three families operated the restaurant for the more than 70 years it was open in Newark, N.Y.
“It’s not so much fancy stuff as it is plain food, good cooking with flavor,” said John Reynolds, the second owner, in the Finger Lake Times in 1984. “But the most important thing we have isn’t for sale — it’s simply friendship, a place to go. The people who come in here, they have all the virtues you would consider American — a very strong work ethic. They go to work in the morning, stop in for coffee, to see their friends, to talk or complain about work.”
That description of the blue-collar folks shuffling through the diner when it was in the small Steuben County town sounds a lot like what was happening a block away at the Deco on Seneca Street just on the other side of Emslie Street from the diner’s current location.
While slinging quick meals was the understated every day at the Newark, the tiny diner in the tiny town did have one moment in the sun.
In 1993, ABC’s General Hospital descended on the restaurant, changed the sign and made “The Triple L Diner” part of the Luke and Laura story line.
Scenes were shot both inside and outside the Newark for the daytime soap.
Starting in 2013, the Zemsky Family, which runs the Larkin Development Group, had the J.B. Judkins Co. “Sterling-brand” diner moved and renovated.
The Office of Price Administration was actually established several months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as the country prepared for the possibility of war.
Weeks after the declaration of war, price controls and rationing were implemented on all manner of consumer goods except agricultural products.
Ben Dykstra, butcher and grocer at the corner of Main and Merrimac in University Heights, shows off the full March, 1943 ration of canned goods for a family of four.
Buffalo News archives
Families had to register for ration books, as Mrs. EW England was doing at School 16 on Delaware and Hodge in 1943.
Women jammed markets when they knew they could get good meat. Such was the case at Neber & McGill Butchers on William Street in 1943.
Additional ration points could be earned by turning in food waste, like grease, for the war effort. Mrs. Robert Bond of Hampshire Street collected four cents and two brown ration points for turning in a pound of rendered kitchen fat to Anthony Scime, of Scime Brothers Grocery, at Hampshire and 19th on the West Side.
Even after the war, shortages continued. This is the scene at the Mohican Market on Main Street near Fillmore in 1946, on a day when butter was available.
The News called it “a mob scene” inside, where Office of Price Administration rules dropped the price to 53 cents. Some markets, confused by the change in rules, were selling for 64 cents.
The OPA was dissolved and price controls ended in 1947.