In 1950, Christ Zinn offered dinners for as little as 75 cents and a cup of coffee for five cents. Traditional Pennsylvania Dutch and American food was served at the diner. Some of the dishes were "wonderful gudt" home-style chicken, chicken pot pie and stuffed pig's stomach. Each day, there was a choice of 40 dinners. A breakfast specialty of the house was creamed chipped beef on fried potatoes. Shoofly pie was served 24 hours a day. And all the food served at Zinn's was made on the premises, including pies, cakes and puddings.
"When Dad opened the diner, he hired a man by the name of 'Toddy' Ochs," said C. Lee. "He brought recipes here that we still use today."
Christ recalled, "When Toddy occasionally ran into trouble in the kitchen he would say, 'I'll call Mom.'"
Christ remembers the time the chef added too much salt to a recipe. A call to his mother saved the day. She told him to add raw potatoes to soak up the excess salt.
In its first year, the diner served 50,000 people. That's a lot of pork and sauerkraut and shoo-fly pie! It was the start of something big.
April 14, a month after the opening of Zinn's Modern Diner, son Christian Lee Zinn came aboard. Son C. Lee ran the diner right into the Eating Hall of Fame.
On a 1952 menu is some interesting advice to unpleasant patrons:
"Don't be a half of a one-percenter. Occasionally we have a customer that we just cannot please, even though the service and the food are very good," it said. "I guess there is nothing more irritable to a waitress and the management than this kind of customer. If you are in this class, please pass us by."
"We needed an orange roof like Howard Johnson's," said Lee Zinn. "This became our orange roof."
Lee also hired John Gerhard of Denver, PA, who worked at Zinn's for over 42 years, retiring in 1997. The legendary loyalty of the staff at Zinn's is a testament to Lee's skill and stewardship.
Over the years, Lee saw a lot of changes in his neck of the woods. Route 272 between Adamstown and Denver wasn't "the boonies" anymore. It mushroomed into "Antiques Capital, USA." Motels, gas stations, and antiques shops seemed to spring up overnight during the '50s and '60s. Renninger's Antique, Collectibles and Farmers Market was built practically next door, and Stoudt's Black Angus came along down the road. Right in the center of it all, you'll find a world-famous institution now known as Zinn's Diner. A lot of people still line up on weekends to satisfy their cravings for "comfort food" classics.
You'd think the diner was still selling food at 1950 prices--which Zinn's has actually done on special occasions such as their twenty-third anniversary in 1973--held to celebrate its return after a fire caused $300,000 in damage the previous year.
was rebuilt after the fire to its modern-day appearance. It was open
24 hours a day, seven days a week. Lee added Zinn's Gift Shop to the
lower level, offering country-style crafts, gifts and collectibles.
The 32-acre Recreational Park opened May 1, 1975 as a living memorial
to his father. Countless Lancaster countians have enjoyed the park free
of charge, thanks to his generosity of spirit.
C. Lee reported, "In the past five years, we've been in the top 100 restaurants in the United States as far as volume is concerned. The food is good. We have a nice selection and prices are very reasonable."
During Lee's reign, Zinn's served an average of 2,000 people a day, nearly three-quarters of a million customers a year. Lee is now retired, but still has a lot of good advice for his son, Chris.
"Thirty-four years, seven days a week," he says. "That's how I made it."