Discover Downtown: Miss Johnstown Diner is a round-the-clock favorite
JOHNSTOWN For some people, meat loaf and mashed potatoes are comfort foods.
Others consider chicken and biscuits nostalgic fare. Ashley Christman’s choice is brown gravy over macaroni salad.
“It’s what they’re famous for here,” Christman said on a recent frigid January day, as she sat at the counter in the Miss Johnstown Diner on East Main Street in Johnstown. “And I’ve been coming here since I was a kid.”
The diner, a light yellow building with a metal roof and red trim around the windows, is a re-purposed trolley car that has been a Johnstown eatery for the past 100 years. People grab one of the 11 red- or black-covered stools or one of the five tables for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night plates — the diner is open 24 hours a day.
Jennie Blanchard, who has owned the Miss Johnstown with her husband, Bob, for the past 10 years, works early morning into early evening. For a recent, modest lunch crowd, she sizzled bacon and hamburgers and scrambled eggs on the grill that stands opposite the counter. Pies were positioned in the cooler farther down, fried cakes and frosting-topped muffins waited in their own container on the counter’s far end.
Business is OK in the small Fulton County community.
“It’s very good on the weekends, weeknights it’s hit or miss,” said Blanchard, 44, dressed in blue jeans and a black, long-sleeved shirt covered by a purple T-shirt. “If the college kids are out, it’s better.”
She’s happy to see the first-light crowd at 6 a.m., and happy her night chef will meet the last call crowd after midnight. If someone stops in at 4 a.m., that’s fine too.
“People are always looking for a place to eat,” Blanchard said, adding that folks traveling in the middle of the night are grateful for a place to stop. She’s glad most of her customers are friendly.
“We have such a great group of people,” Blanchard said. “We do our Thanksgiving dinner here, we have older people who have no place to go, families. So we do our dinner here; it makes it nice. Some older people will bring in dishes of food.”
Diners are all guests on Thanksgiving; Blanchard doesn’t use the cash register that day. The friendly attitude is one reason people keep coming back. “Everything is homemade from scratch,” Christman said. “There are good people here, positive people, good conversation.”
Blanchard likes to talk to her customers.
“It’s definitely an acquired taste,” she said to a man ordering the gravy and macaroni special. “It came with the diner as a big seller. It seems that’s just one of the things people like.”
When someone else ordered the double cheeseburger topped with bacon, she was happy to point out a typo in the menu. “You mean the one for $650?” she asked. “I’m not much on decimal points.”
Trolley car diners are all narrow, and so is the Miss Johnstown. The ceiling is only 7 feet high, and the windows on the table side of the building are all small. The trolley wheels are still on the car, hidden under the diner.
Blanchard said there have been additions over the years, but there are still a lot of vintage touches — the stools and multi-colored floor tiles among them.
“How do you like your new grill?” asked Salvatore “Sab” Cammarere, who had finished lunch and was reading a guitar magazine at the end of the counter. “I love it,” said Blanchard, bringing an order to another table.
Cammarere said he eats at the diner five or six times a week. “It’s almost like coming home,” he said.
The menu is simple. Two eggs, toast, ham, bacon or sausage go for $4.25, Philly cheese steak for $5.25, ham salad sandwich for $2.25. Soup, French toast and corned beef hash are other options.
Like diners everywhere, people use the Miss Johnstown as a gathering spot.
“I come here for breakfast three or four days a week,” said Rick Ricciardi, 70, of Johnstown. “I’ll meet friends here, all the old retired guys. I see guys here I went to high school with.”
There are other restaurants on the block, with their regular customers. Blanchard is glad she’s got hers, and said goodbye to Christman as she and a friend walked toward the front door. “We’ll be back again,” Christman said. “You know we will.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.