Well, it all began in 1987 when Jerry Berta purchased Uncle Bob’s Diner, built in 1947 by the Jerry O’Mahony Dining Car Company. Flint had been its only home until Berta moved it to Rockford. He found Michigan’s last remaining diner practically abandoned and waiting to be demolished, bought it for $2000, and moved it to a vacant lot he owned located about a mile from his home. After restoring the diner to its original beauty, the kitchen of the diner was set up as a studio, and the dining area was turned into a gallery to display Berta’s work, as well as the artwork of Madeline Kaczmarczyk, his wife. Uncle Bob’s was then renamed “The Diner Store.
The initial interest and curiosity from the public was great. Despite the neon sign in the window that stated “NO FOOD, JUST ART,” people seemed to flock to the Diner Store in hopes of ordering a burger and malt, in addition to buying art. Jerry had always loved diners: they were the inspiration for his work, but he, like the people that came to his store, also loved to eat in them. He was getting tired of having to drive out east to enjoy diner fare, so he thought about buying another diner, and when the opportunity came along to purchase one, Berta did just that.
The diner was in Little Ferry, New Jersey and then owner, Ralph Corrado, was looking for a buyer. He had already sold the lot that it was on and offered the diner to the Smithsonian but had been turned down. One evening at twilight as Corrado and his son, Arnie were cleaning up, he saw Jerry and his friends outside taking pictures of the diner. He invited them inside, and upon learning that Berta was already the owner of one diner, asked him if he wanted to buy another. Berta, who was out east on his way to an art show at the time, he thought Mr. Corrado was kidding, but less than one minute later he became the owner of his second vintage diner. He then hired Superior Transit to move it the 700 miles from Little Ferry, New Jersey to Rockford. It was transported in two sections, and Berta says that it took “four days, ten flat tires and one fire,” but it survived the trip.
Although Jerry always wanted a diner he could eat in, he had no intention of actually running it himself. He wanted to lease it out and have someone else operate it. After the diner was delivered, he tried for a year to lease it, but nobody seemed to believe it could work as a successful restaurant business. It was at this point that he decided to take a chance and open it himself. People told him, “He was crazy to go into the Diner Business,” but people had said the same about making a living as an artist, and he and his wife, Madeline, had been doing that successfully since 1975..
July 5, 1991, Rosie’s Diner opened. There was no advertising or publicity planned for the event just a banner put up at 6 a.m. announcing that it was open for business. At 5 p.m. they took the banner down because there was a line out the door; the biggest problem was that too many people wanted to eat there! With the help of a great staff to work out all the problems, Rosie’s was on its way. Jerry finally had a diner he could enjoy a great meal in, along with a lot of other people.
It only five years to put another neon sign in a window that stated, “Over One Million Served Right!” It went up as Jack Tietsama enjoyed the One Millionth meal served at Rosie’s in Rockford.
You have probably seen Rosie’s Diner before on television. It was made famous by actress Nancy Walker who played the character of Rosie the waitress, cleaning up spills with “the quicker picker upper,” Bounty paper towels. The Paramount Dining Car Company built it in 1946, and it was one of their deluxe models. Today it is one of the finest streamline diners still around. Originally named the Silver Dollar Diner, it was owned by Tex Corrado, Ralph’s dad. At Tex’s first diner, “The Industrial Diner”, he served a neighborhood kid, who liked to sing. That kid turned out to be Frank Sinatra. It was later known as the Farmland Diner. Ralph Corrado renamed it Rosie’s after the TV commercials increased its popularity in 1970.
In 1993 Jerry decided to build Dinerland Mini-Golf. It was not your average mini-golf course; almost every hole has a cement sculpture of big food or art, the two main themes here at Dinerland. Our 18 HOLES of FUN. (Which will be getting a major overhaul soon!)