White Mana Diner
Along the well-trafficked stretch of Tonnele Avenue and the corner of
Manhattan Avenue is a local landmark known for its unique fabrication
and American fare of hamburgers, fries and milkshakes. The familiar eatery
to all who use the busy the truck route is the White Mana Diner. It was
promoted as the "diner of the future" for the 1939 New York World's Fair
in Flushing Meadows, Queens, and as an "Introduction to Fast Food."
Paramount Diners adopted the use of Formica, a brand of laminate invented in 1913 as an insulating product, for its diner surfaces such as countertops, tabletops and ceilings. According to Richard J.S. Gutman in American Diner, the product was practical, replacing other building materials, and had the familiar Art Deco designs and colors: "The sleekness of the surface . . . introduced a new diner aesthetic. . . . Tabletops featured Art Deco designs with stripes and circles of contrasting colors. The edges of the counter were inlaid with metal stripes" (117).
The interior features a distinctive geometric-patterned tiled floor, circular steel counter in white with blue trim and chrome bar stools "designed so the cook/server wouldn't have to walk more than three steps in any direction to cook a burger, draw a soda and serve a customer" (Krane). Its modern look conveys a sense of durability and ease of maintenance in a classic design.
Louis Bridges owned five "White Manna" diners in New Jersey. He purchased the diner of World's Fair fame and brought it to Jersey City. It opened on June 2, 1946, offering ten-cent hamburgers. The carhop service to five a.m., begun in the 1950s, was discontinued in the 1980s. The White Mana Diner, however, still remains open 24 hours a day, reportedly selling 3,000 hamburgers a week. The exterior of the diner was altered with brick construction, covering some of the original facade when a dining room was added to the circular grill area.
The current owner Mario Costa, born in Portugal, bought the diner for $80,000 in 1979 from Bridges’ brother Webster. He rented the diner to Costa but was going to raze the building. Costa had formed an attachment to the diner from working there, sweeping the floor and cooking burgers, to put himself through high school and Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University). In 1996, Costa decided to sell the diner and lot for $500,000, but when he found that the buyer intended to demolish the diner for a fast food franchise, he went to court and negotiated for the repurchase of the business at additional cost.
After much speculation about the misspelling of manna in the name of the diner on its signs, Costa has explained that the absence of the second n dates from the 1980s: "Our sign originally has two Ns . . . . Coca Cola used to service our signs, and one day they bought it back with one N. They misspelled it and it stuck" (quoted in Levin 48). Regardless of its spelling, the name has both biblical and historical references to the affordable food in a sanitary establishment during the Depression.
On March 24,1997, the Jersey City Historic Preservation Committee declared the diner a local landmark. The decision helps secure the preservation of the White Mana Diner and its signage from future developers and demolition.
"A Tale of Two Mannas." Weird N.J.
(Roadside Guide) 2003:36-37.
| By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub