With my interest in old restaurants and neon signs, I can remember driving through the small town of Dundas, Ontario, Canada sometime in the 1980’s. Always on the lookout for anything old an vintage, I looked up at the buildings along the main street and came to a screeching halt when I spotted the huge Deluxe Restaurant sign overlooking the front of this vintage diner. The street view of the building was covered in green and black vitrolite, a popular glass-like tile material used in 1930’s and 1940’s. I found a place to park the car, grabbed my camera so I could capture this image, and try to scout out this latest personal find. I took several pictures of each side of the sign, then checked the door, which was locked. I peeked in through the glass door and was stunned at the vision. My head couldn’t quite figure out what was going on inside. I could clearly see the various booths inside, as well as the side counter with back cupboards full of old stock typical of something available 50 years previous. Oddly enough, there were live plants in pots on almost each booth table all through the diner. I kept looking through the windows, trying hard to comprehend what I was observing.
I walked out to the street so I could get a better overall look at the place. A gentleman walking by had a smile on his face, so I took the opportunity to ask him if he knew when the restaurant would be open. He stopped and told me that the place had been closed for at least 25 years. When I mentioned the live plants inside, he said that there was an older lady who owned the place who lived upstairs above the restaurant and comes down to water the plants every day. He then explained that she and her husband had operated the diner until he passed away, and she chose not to open up since, but couldn’t bring herself to sell the place.
Fast forward to 2008, and a surprise auction was announced. The elderly lady that owned the restaurant had passed away, and a family member decided to sell the restaurant and its contents to the highest bidder. I wanted to attend the preview of the auction, finally giving me a chance to get inside the building for the first and last time. I wanted to see each and every historic nook and cranny that had been hidden away for so long. I was fully aware that after this day, there would be no more Deluxe Restaurant location to see again quite the same way, so this was a chance that I was not going to pass up.
I arrived early to the preview and photographed the front of the restaurant. There was a block long lineup of former patrons, auction attendees, and curious spectators. Once inside, it was like stepping into the past. I was immediately taken by the fact that every square inch of the diner had not been updated whatsoever. There was old stock inside the cupboards and on top of the counters, including packages of candy, rolls of film, and packs of cigarettes still in their original wrappings. The totally original Coca Cola soda fountain was absolutely spectacular to see in person, rather than the limited view through a window. The walls were covered with original advertising posters that were from the 1940’s through to the 1960’s. Stacks of the original sets of diner dishes filled several booths and metal racks. Behind the checkout counter was the original cash register with customer receipts still speared onto those metal spears. Beside the cash register was a wonderful vintage television set from the early 1960’s.
With so many people eager to see the diner for themselves this one last time, the place was absolutely packed. In fact, there was a long lineup of others outside the restaurant wanting to get inside as soon as others inside were ready to leave. For photographers, it was nearly impossible to get a picture of anything inside without having someone in your viewfinder.
Being in the restaurant at this point was like being inside a time capsule. It was the truest and most original examples of a period perfect restaurant that I’m sure I will ever see in my lifetime. I’m just glad a got to see it in person.
The original owners of Deluxe Restaurant in Dundas, Ontario, Canada, circa 1940.
The day of the auction of the Deluxe Restaurant.
Crowds completely fill the inside of the Deluxe Restaurant during the preview of the closing auction.
Counters and cupboards still full of original 50 year old stock inside the Deluxe Restaurant, as seen at the auction preview.
Coca Cola soda fountain inside the Deluxe Restaurant.
The Deluxe Restaurant is closed!