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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Brett Parker of Francis serves up a dinner order at the Rhode Island Diner in Oakley.

OAKLEY, Summit County — A vintage diner here is drawing a heavy crowd made up largely of nonlocals.

Enough so, perhaps, that this unique eating establishment is becoming Utah's diner.

"We've had customers coming in from Provo to as far north as Logan and as far west as Tooele," said Keith Walker, owner of the Road Island Diner. "I had intended this to be Oakley's diner, but there are many coming from outside of (the) valley."

The Road Island Diner has served about 5,500 people since its soft opening two weeks ago, Walker said. It is the second restaurant and the only eatery open year-round that serves breakfast in Oakley.

What the owner thought was going to be a "weekend project" turned out to be an investment of more than $1 million and sweat equity of a year to turn the establishment from a rusty, oversize can to a "streamlined-style, art deco diner," Walker said.

No detail has been left unnoticed to bring back the look and feel of 1939, the year the green and yellow, metallic-looking diner rolled off the assembly line to be showcased at the New

York World's Fair.

"(The diner's) parking lot has been jammed up, and cars park along the shoulder of the roads," said Alton Frazier, chairman of Oakley City Planning Commission. "I've seen a line of people waiting outside for a table."

"We've been waiting for an hour," said Holladay resident Laura Klein on Saturday at the official opening.

"We drove up here on a motorcycle in spite of the rain because we wanted to have a fun experience," said her husband, Russ Klein. "Going home might not be fun, but the diner is a brand new experience."

For people who were raised east of the Mississippi River, where diners are more common, the experience is nostalgic.

"I grew up with (diners) back in New York because my grandpa owned one," said Steve Roberts, an Arizona resident waiting for a heart transplant in Salt Lake City. "When I moved to the West I said, 'Where's a diner?"'

In Oakley, of course.

"I heard it on the news, and I had to come," Roberts said. "The layout (of the diner) is the same: The door is in the middle, you walk in and there's the counter. I felt like I was 12."

Bernard Harpole, a Salt Lake resident from Winterset, Iowa, recalled how he and his friends "hanged out, having fun at a diner around the jukebox," the boys wearing jeans with leg bottoms turned up twice and the girls wearing two-tone shoes.

Harpole is once again "hanging out" with his friend, this time around a miniature jukebox placed on each green-colored Formica table. They eat a Paul Bunyan-size meal catered by a waitress dressed in '40s regalia who is dubbed "Rosie," a popular name during that era. Rosie, whose real name is Bailee Woolstenhulme, is a senior in high school who is quick on her feet, clearing dishes away in between food courses and maintaining a human element to her service, locking eyes with customers while bearing an unbreakable smile.

On careful inspection, the latest technology is camouflaged throughout the classic diner.

A little girl with pigtails is dancing in her seat to the Beach Boys song "Surfin' U.S.A.," playing from the jukebox and out through an iPod. The music, once played for a nickel, is heard throughout the diner's facility and grounds at a contemporary bargain price of a quarter.

The sun comes out, glaring onto families eating at the tables that are along the picture windows. At a push of the remote control, tiny motors that are subtly hidden behind the old-fashioned valance draw the shades down.

Walker said a banquet room located downstairs from the diner will be open by mid-August. Its entrance is behind the back building that butts against the diner, housing the kitchen and restroom, among other things. The front and interior of the banquet facility resemble a barn, purposely matching Oakley's plan to make over its business center into an Old West theme.

Walker said the hall will be adequately equipped for business meetings, in addition to holding parties upon reservation.

"It's a synergy of past and future," said Walker.

"(The diner) brings me back in time," Harpole said. "I'll be back."


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