Six Days and a Diner
In 1947, an organization of Wilmington restaurant owners voted to close at 10:00 p.m., leaving no place in the city for late travelers or night-shift workers to have a cup of coffee and a sandwich. The problem was solved by Kroger Babb, co-owner of Hygienic Productions in Wilmington. Within six days, there was a diner at 123 North South Street, complete with landscaping and a band concert to mark its grand opening. The new diner, the Little Giant Restaurant, had ten stools and offered early and late meals to hungry residents and late night travelers. For want of more space, “annexes” were added to the diner, eventually covering the original shell. After many years, the Little Giant closed its doors.
In 2009, the exterior of the building was restored, revealing its original 1947 façade. Without running water or a defined purpose the building currently serves as a temporary office. The 65-year-old diner faces an uncertain future. Will there be a second career for the Little Giant, or has the old diner reached the end of the track?
The Story of the Diner
In the late 1800s, horse-drawn lunch wagons provided inexpensive lunches and late night meals to city workers. As popularity grew, manufacturers began to design lunch wagons that reflected the style of the train “dining” car. Those who could not afford to purchase a new “diner” often renovated decommissioned railroad passenger cars.
In the 1930s, former restaurant chain operator Arthur Valentine became interested in the Ablah Company in Kansas, manufacturer of small portable diners, operating under names such as the Little Palace or the White Crown. He became a salesman for the Ablah and eventually purchased the business. Valentine Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1947.
Valentine diners were best described as small boxes and were designed to be easily moved on flatbed trucks. Inside, stools were placed around a counter which kept the customers out of the work area. There usually were no booths, and size and design of the diner depended on the type of business the owner operated. Valentine died in 1954 and the business was purchased in 1957 by the Radcliff family.