The White Mana Diner
470 Tonnele Avenue, US Route 1 and Manhattan Avenue

 

White Mana Diner
Photos: C. Karnoutsos, 2005

Along the well-trafficked stretch of Tonnele Avenue and the corner of Manhattan Avenue is a local landmark known for its unique fabrication and America 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."

The futuristic Art Deco-style White Mana Diner was made by Paramount Diners of Oakland, NJ, as was the White Manna Diner in Hackensack. According to the web site Diner Facts, "Paramount diners featured a distinctive curved roofline . . ." that one sees in the Jersey City diner. Started in Haledon, NJ, by its founder Arthur E. Sieber during the Depression, Paramount Diners adopted the use of Formica, a brand of laminate invented in 1913, for its diner countertops, tabletops and elsewhere. The product was practical, replacing other building materials, and had the familiar Art Deco designs and colors (Gutman 117). The exterior of the small, front-rounded White Mana Diner has white enamel with orange/red trim rather than the stainless steel commonly used in diner construction. 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 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 had 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, Costa explains that the absence of the second n since 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.

The Jersey City Historic Preservation Committee declared the diner a local landmark in 1997, which helps secure the preservation of the White Mana Diner and its signage "HAMBURGERS SINCE 1946" and "CURB SERVICE."

References:

"A Tale of Two Mannas." Weird N.J. (Roadside Guide) 2003:36-37.
Diner Facts.
http://www.dinercity.com
Genovese, Peter. Jersey Diners. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.
Genovese, Peter. New Jersey Curiosities. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2003.
Gutman, Richard J.S. American Diner, Then and Now. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
Jim Krane, "White Mana Escapes Demolition by Becoming a Historic Landmark," New Jersey Online: March 21, 1997.
Levin, Eric. "EATS." New Jersey Monthly February 2007:47-48;114.

     
By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub