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 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."
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 Regardless of its spelling, the name has both biblical and historical references to the affordable food in a sanitary establishment during the Depression.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."
"A Tale of Two Mannas." Weird N.J.
(Roadside Guide) 2003:36-37.
| By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub