Mrs. Working Stiff is from the Detroit area, having grown up in the “down river” suburbs south of The Motor City. Back in the day when she was out late dancing or at a club with friends and it was time to find a place for some late junk food, the gang would drop in to a local “coney island”. Not a coney island as in Coney Island, but a coney island as in a coney island. Put down the cheese fries and raise your hand if you’re not confused yet.
I’m from the great state of New Jersey, which is considered by many to be the world headquarters of the type of restaurant that I’ve always call The Diner. Big on breakfast all day, burgers, meatloaf, and other short-order cooking and simple comfort foods. Diners are frequently built to look like a train car – a “dining car” – and are frequently clad in stainless steel and chrome, but that isn’t strictly required.
I used to travel for work a lot and I met my wife in our company’s Detroit office. I had been out that way for a few trips before we met and had been on my own like many business travelers, trying to find the good spots for various meals, locating the shopping centers, malls, touristy must-sees, and all of that. I’ve been to the Henry Ford Museum, the Fairlane Mall, Henry Ford’s old mansion – “Fairlane” – what can I say – our office was in Ford Country!
On more than one trip I stayed at a Westin Hotel up on 10 Mile Rd. Yes, that’s 10 Mile as in 2 roads north of the famous 8 Mile. Fortunately 10 Mile appeared to be a better neighborhood! But I digress.
I have always been one to go out and explore when traveling for work. If and when the work was done and I had free time I always liked to drive around and see the area. While doing so I kept seeing all these places that looked like restaurants – diners actually – except they all had names like “Athens Coney Island”, or “Southgate Coney Island”, or “Frank’s Coney Island”. I noticed it but didn’t know what to make of it. I asked people about it over the years with no breakthroughs in understanding.
“Hey – what’s with all these coney island places?”
“What do you mean – there’re lots of coney islands around here – you hungry?”
After I met the future Mrs. Working Stiff I asked her about it and at first she didn’t understand what I was going on about.
Me: “Why are there all these restaurants called this or that coney island?”
She: “Yeah, they’re all over – are you hungry?”
Note that I have “dined” at several of these restaurants and have found them to be exactly what we from The Garden State would call a “diner”.
So, like many things in life, why exactly these restaurants in the Detroit area are called coney islands remains a mystery. I have a theory that has never been seconded or substantiated. My theory is that long ago someone from Coney Island, New York, moved out this way and opened a restaurant. That person was homesick maybe and called the place Demetrio’s Coney Island or whatever. As sort of an homage. That’s my theory anyway.
If anybody knows the answer, please chime in via comment!
A few of the pictures were taken from the car window at night. Please excuse the quality. The scrambled eggs were good.
The Working Stiff