About the time of our high school years, there was a tiny diner on a triangular piece of land at the corner of Long Lane and Marshall Road, across from the huge gas storage tank. And it was very tiny, only about six stools that you had to slide sideways to get to. There was no kitchen that I recollect. Everything was done right in front of you by the one man who took your order as you walked in.
The diner served only two things: hot dogs and coffee, both very cheap even for then. Don’t ask for a hamburger, a Coke, or even a menu. Your decision was simple. Do you want coffee with your hot dog? Yes or no? With such a narrow choice, service was ultra-quick and your order was on the counter before you even got to your stool, although few customers stayed and we were often the only ones seated. Most grabbed their hot dog, plopped their money on the counter and quickly drove off with the bitten-off remains bouncing on their dashboard. Coffee only came in thick, ceramic cups back then, not cardboard cups to go, and customers would hurriedly drink it standing at the counter.
The diner was very popular, even late at night, and there was a steady stream of customers coming and going. Quick and cheap was the business plan, and it worked. Make money on the volume.
A hot dog restaurant recently opened on Concord Pike near my house, and I hoped it would be like the diner I remembered. But, no. Their business plan is to make a big deal about a simple topping and charge $5.50 for the combination. They have about twenty variations and most of the time the servers, dressed in orange and brown caps and uniforms, are idly waiting for the customers to decide. I will be surprised if they last a year.
Jean Shepherd once told the story of being on a bus listening to the conversation of two old men seated behind him. One asked the other how his cat was doing. “Fine,” replied the other, “considering her age. She’s seventeen years old, now.”
“Seventeen! That’s old for a cat,” said the first. “What do you feed it?”
“Hot dogs and coffee, that’s all. Just hot dogs and coffee.”