The bottom of the menu at the Dinky Diner reads “Serving 300… 35 at a time”. And 35 would be a completely packed house. Of course, the last time I drove by the Dinky Diner, they were closed – but I still stopped to peek through the windows. I’m intrigued by almost everything… the name of the diner, the size of the diner, and the unique history of the pre-fab diners.
History of the Dinky Diner
The Dinky Diner is known as a Valentine Diner – a prefabricated building with a kitchen and long countertop that was designed to be run by minimal staff. The diner was first brought to Decatur City in 2005 from Ellsworth, Kansas by Loren and Karen Boger. It was purchased by Jacky Kuster back in 2009 and she ran the diner for many years before her death in 2015. I believe one of her granddaughters now operates the diner.
History of the Valentine Diner
Arthur Valentine always wanted to be his own boss. After selling cars, he opened a small restaurant with his wife Ella. He also took a job with the Ablah Company selling small portable lunchrooms. After World War II, when supplies became available, Arthur started the Valentine Manufacturing Company. They created prefabricated buildings. Essentially, they were small metal boxes that served as a diner. In fact, the building was so small that it was portable. You could use a truck to move the building to a new location.
Each one had a small kitchen, a long countertop, and perhaps a few booths. They also had a special metal plaque on the wall showing that they were created by the Valentine company. Another unique feature was the built-in vault. If you purchased the diner and needed to pay off the initial cost, you would simply take part of your daily income and slide it into the vault. The Valentine Company would make visits to each property and collect the payments. Of course, if you didn’t make the payments, then they would bring a truck and just take back the entire building. Just as Arthur Valentine wanted to become his own boss, the Valentine diners help thousands of people to become their own boss.
Other Valentine Diners in Iowa
That I’m aware, there are a total of four remaining Valentine Diners in Iowa:
- Dinky Diner in Decatur City
- Susie Q’s in Mason City
- Grand Lunchbox in Spencer
- Clamshell in Muscatine