Diner on Lincoln Highway restored

Serro's earns recognition

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When Mary Kay Serro Bisingnani walked into Serro's Diner for the first time following the restoration, she saw a familiar image -- her father standing in the diner, taking food out of the mirrored mahogany refrigerator.

But now, 75 years after her father, Joseph Serro, opened the diner's doors, this image brought tears to Mrs. Bisingnani's eyes.

"My father spent his life there, and it was a big part of the family," she said.

What was once the first restaurant off the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Route 30 (Lincoln Highway), the restored diner was honored July 9 with a Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Award -- the Construction Project Award for Special Historic Properties.

For the Serro family, this was great nostalgia.

"I am very proud that they were able to do it and be a historic thing that we can show my grandchildren," said Mrs. Bisingnani, 77, of Irwin.

This wasn't the first time the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor got the honor -- it received the award for the restoration of the 1927 Coffee Pot in Bedford about 10 years ago.

"I am at the point after the Coffee Pot and this that we can take on anything to be restored," said Olga Herbert, LHHC executive director. Ms. Herbert nominated the diner for the award in early May as it is one of only five diners in the U.S. to be restored to this historic detail following Department of the Interior standards.

"Older folks will come in and reminisce, and younger folks will come in and be surprised of size," she added. "It tells the story of travel along the Lincoln Highway."

After receiving more than $400,000 in donations toward the diner's restoration, Ms. Herbert got the Car-Checking Report, a detailed list of the original material used to build the diner's interior, from the Serro family to be able to restore its original look. However, the side doorway was widened to allow for wheelchairs and walkers, which eliminated a booth in the diner.

"This model was the Cadillac of diners," Ms. Herbert said of the 11 1/2-foot by 47-foot Jerry O'Mahony model diner.

Most of the family worked at the diner at some point during the 20 years the Serros owned the diner. Mrs. Bisingnani worked at the diner beginning when she was 9 years old and ended when she graduated from college in the summer of 1958.

Then, she made $3 a day for her work of peeling potatoes, loading and unloading the dishwasher, working her way up to cashier.

"I did waitress for a little, but I didn't like it," she said. "[Serro's Diner] was always part of your life."

Serro's Special Sandwich, a three-deck sandwich, and the coconut cream pie were Mrs. Bisingnani's favorite foods to eat at the diner. But everything at the diner was homemade: Joseph was a cook, co-owner Louis Serro was the butcher and an aunt did the baking.

"Everything was fresh and homemade," Mrs. Bisingnani said. "Potato peelers wasted too much potato so my father said we had to peel by hand so that's what we did."

While a full menu will not be served at the restored diner, visitors will be able to have pie and coffee to recreate what it was like to dine on the historic Lincoln Highway.

"To really experience the diner, you have to be sitting, eating and drinking," Ms. Herbert said.

The diner, which has been stored in a Latrobe warehouse since the Heinz History Center donated the diner to the LHCC in 2003, will be moved back to the Lincoln Highway once enough money is raised for a new building to be built next to the LHCC to store the restored diner in.

"I honestly can't wait to get it out there," Ms. Herbert said.

While the capital campaign hasn't started, Ms. Herbert said she plans to approach organizations, individuals and corporations for donations for the building.

In the meantime, people can donate by mailing a check to Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, 3435 Route 30 East, Latrobe, PA 15650. Checks can be made out to Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.

Ms. Herbert hopes that the restored diner will prompt future restorations.

"Hopefully this will inspire other people to save buildings," she said.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Claire Aronson: caronson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1964 or on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.


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