Craving the classics: Retro diners are booming in Bakersfield

Kids enjoy an old-fashioned milkshake at Woolworth's Diner. January 24, 2018. (Credit: Maria Medina Photography)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Diners have been a long-time staple of the Central Valley, often a popular rest stop for drivers along Highway 99. But the old-fashioned American diner is feeding a growing appetite for retro fare these days, nourished by the allure of social media.

At Woolworth's Diner in downtown Bakersfield, there's always a line at the lunch counter. The luncheonette was popular across the country in the 1950's, the Woolworth retail empire grew to over 5,000 locations across the nation and overseas. But when Woolworth's officially closed for business in the late 1990's, popular craving for their burgers and shakes didn't diminish.

Jeremy Trammell re-opened the old Woolworth's diner in downtown Bakersfield 8 years ago, and didn't change a thing. The counter, the seats, the wardrobe and welcome from the employees--all true to the 1950's. Bakersfield 's is thought to be the last remaining Woolworth's diner in America.

No breakfast, no dinner, just lunch served until 4pm, every day of the week. It's a business model that wouldn't sustain many eateries, at a time when restaurants are trying to drum up business that's been declining for the past few years.

But at Woolworth's, Trammell says business is up about 20% every year since they opened, and the restaurant pays next to nothing on advertising.

"Every single year me and my business partner, my brother, we say we can't grow that again, it was too much, it was too big a spike. There's no way we can do it again," Trammell, co-owner of Woolworth's said. "And then the next year we do it again."

Tracy Calaustro used to come to Woolworth's when she was a teenager.

"We'd come here and hang out, and it was popular. And look at it now, even more popular," Calaustro said, before digging into a juicy pastrami sandwich.

"It provokes a lot of nostalgia. I know when I come in here I remember my grandma bringing me here," John French said. "It's a good feeling. You know, the food, the atmosphere, the way they dress."

The secret ingredient? Pop culture has brought retro diners back to the spotlight, thanks to shows like Riverdale, where Pop's Diner is the group's go-to hangout. And Guy Fieri's Diner's Drive-Ins, and Dives has put places in Bakersfield on the map.

Social media is spicing up business too, especially Instagram. Though Woolworth's still doesn't have one.

"They'll find us through Instagram, through Facebook, through the food blogs, because on their travels, that's how they're picking their itinerary," Trammell said.

It's a new recipe for success that's working for the culinary classic.

The old-fashioned pricing doesn't hurt either. $6.35 gets you a massive burger, fries, and a soda.

"The real appeal is it's got that diner flavor," French said. "It's got that Woolworth's counter flavor."

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