We hadn’t seen my nephew Sam, who lives in New York City, for four years. So in advance of his first visit to Hershey over Easter weekend, we compiled a list of activities that would showcase some of the authentic flavors of central Pennsylvania.
Our first stop — one block from where Amtrak delivered him in Middletown — was Kuppy’s Diner.
My son, Jack, and I are hardly regulars, but it is one of our favorite spots for food and bonding. Jack has become such a fan of Carol Kupp’s peanut butter pie that it has replaced cake for his birthday.
So Jack and I and Sam caught up over lunch at Kuppy’s. Two burgers, a BLT on wheat, two orders of fries for the grand total of $14.03.
‘Movement in their souls’
Diners are of the past, often featuring chrome and neon, but they aren’t a thing of the past. Kuppy’s is among a surprising number of classic diners in central Pennsylvania still serving bacon and eggs, burgers and fries, meatloaf and mashed potatoes — and a whole lot more. Comfort is the food, comfortable is the atmosphere.
Diners were modeled after railroad dining cars, delivered already assembled. They have movement in their souls and literally can be moved.
Take, for instance, Harrisburg’s former Riverview Diner, which arrived in 1946 but in 1990 was relocated (a Taco Bell stands there now) to the United Kingdom. On display within the massive downstairs of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, you’ll find the former Flo-In Cafe, which arrived from Wichita, Kan., by way of San Diego.
Percy Kupp opened Kuppy’s in 1933 (here’s what it looked like then), according to the diner’s Facebook page. “It is now owned by the fourth generation of Kupps to run it, with the fifth generation working there. We are just a small old-time diner, just like the way things used to be, just like the way things should be.”
I don’t know owners Greg and Carol Kupp, but I always look for them (it’s a pretty small place, it doesn’t take a lot of effort) when I go there. Carol might wait on my table, Greg probably prepared my food, and it could be either one of them who looks me in the eye as I settle my bill, asks me how everything was, and thanks me for my business.
It was great, you’re welcome, let’s do it again sometime.
At the really good diners, a customer is always a welcomed guest. That was the case at Highspire Diner, where owner Charlie Harmantzis was behind the counter when Jack, my wife, Sara, and I ate there in April. Looking out toward 2nd Street, Harmantzis said out loud, “Here’s my buddy from Washington.”
The middle-aged man and woman who entered clearly had a history with Harmantzis and the diner. It was a little after 1 p.m.; the diner closes at 2 on Saturdays.
“Do we still have time?” the man asked.
“Plenty of time,” Harmantzis assured them. A little later, the owner sat on a blue vinyl-covered stool, speaking across the aisle with the couple in their booth.
Old friends welcomed back to an old, familiar place.
Scenes like that one play out every day in our area. Within a 45-minute drive of Hershey, you’ll also find the American Dream Diner and East Shore Diner (Harrisburg), Conroy’s Prospect Diner (Columbia), Neptune Diner (Lancaster), Jennie’s Diner (Ronks, Lancaster County), Lee’s Diner (Thomasville, York County), Wolfe’s Diner (Dillsburg), Mel’s Diner (Lebanon), among others.
“Diners of Pennsylvania“: Written by Brian Butko, Kevin Patrick and Kyle R. Weaver, this book captures 239 classic diners, including full-color photos and postcards, locations, food, hours, diner styles and manufacturers.
Diner Hotline: Larry Cultrera set about documenting American diners as part of what he calls his “personal research project.” Since 1980, he has photographed more than 800 diners, starting on Nov. 29, 1980, with the ByPass Diner in Harrisburg, now known as the American Dream Diner. He also talks about it in this TV interview.
RoadsideArchitecture.com: Besides her dogs, Debra Jane Seltzer of Ventura, Calif., said her passion is roadside architectures. Since 2000, her website has documented diners and other buildings, signs, statues to the tune of more than 60,000 photos. Here are the diners she chronicled in Pennsylvania.
RetroRoadmap.com: Your hostess is Mod Betty, played by Beth Lennon, who describes herself as “a gal with a passion for finding and sharing cool old places and having all sorts of retro-inspired fun!” Her mod wardrobe suggests she’s really living the dream. Here are the website’s Pennsylvania posts.