Historic diner is moveable feast

Rhode Island icon serves National Registry sloppy joes in Utah

Road Island diner

Tommy’s Diner, formerly of Middletown, RI, now the Road Island Diner of Oakley, Utah, was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in August 2009.

History of the diner: In 1939, the nation’s leading diner manufacturer, the Jerry O’Mahony Co. of Elizabeth, New Jersey, rolled out of its factory diner # 1107 which it touted as its largest deluxe model. The company showcased their creation in the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

After the fair, diner owner, Al McDermott, purchased the Streamline-Modern style diner and had it towed to Fall River, MA, where it operated with great success for 14 years. This was the company's largest design and boasted chrome glass showcased green Italian Marble countertops, Tiffany glass clerestory windows in a monitor style roof and hand laid quarry tiled flooring. McDermott's moniker was “Justly Famous since 1939”. Looking to serve more customers in Fall River, Al Mac purchased a larger Deraffle diner in 1953 where it still operates today as Al Mac Diner.

The O’Mahony was sold that year to Tommy Borodemus, who was looking to expand out of his 16 stool 1936 Worcester lunch wagon which he had purchased with the $600 New Deal bonus offered to WWI veterans by FDR to counteract the effects of the great depression. Borodemus had the diner moved to Middletown, RI, and renamed it “Tommy’s Deluxe Diner”.

The Borodemus family opened the diner to much fanfare and passed down its operation for four generations of family history. Countless memories for the family and its patrons were generated over the years. The diner was featured in many TV spots and on Charles Osgood’s CBS Sunday Morning. In 2006, with mounting competition from fast food outlets and restaurant chains, the family decided to sell the property to the Tim Horton doughnut chain. A long search began for a deserving home for this rare piece of Americana. Although other cities were considered, Oakley, Utah was offered the opportunity to preserve the diner’s history .

Rhode Island diner road to Utah

In May of 2007, the RI diner was transported across the country, weaving its way through designated back roads complete with state police escorts and pilot cars. The diner arrived in Oakley in mid-July and began its complete restoration. Unlike the few remaining diners still operating on the east coast, thankfully, little structural and cosmetic changes had occurred over the diner’s 70 year history. Those that did were replicated from old photos. What you see now is what you would have seen in 1939 as this depression-era pre-war diner was wheeled out of the factory. The tabletop remote jukeboxes, flat TV’s and air conditioning are modern embellishments.

In honor of this icon’s legacy the new owners have named it the “Road Island Diner” because of its origin and the fact that it was placed on the island in the road in RI. You can visit The Road Island Diner if your ever near Salt Lake City.