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The Meadowbrook Diner at 5151 East 38th Street is one of several authentic diners that once fed the hungry masses in Indianapolis. Located just east of North Emerson Avenue, this diner has served eastsiders for over fifty-three years. The Meadowbrook was manufactured in 1954 by Mountain View Diners in Signac, New Jersey. The streamlined, stainless steel building came to Indianapolis via the railroad and opened in July 1958 as the Meadowbrook Diner, but was renamed Dick’s Diner in the 1960s. The sleek interior featured lots of Formica, a vaulted ceiling, booths, and a counter with stools. According to the sign, the dinner had air conditioning, fountain service, and twenty-four hour service.

Today, diners have a nostalgic cult following. Purists define a diner as a prefabricated building constructed specifically as a restaurant. Others also include old trolley and railroad cars later converted into restaurants. Diners have roots dating to the 1870s when horse-drawn lunch wagons provided meals near factories. These early mobile kitchens moved from site to site. Later prefabricated diners usually were stationary, but it wasn’t unheard of to relocate them to a better location, as was the case with the well-known Peter Pan Diner that once stood on East Washington Street. (Heritage Photo & Research Services, the Indiana Album)

Although this YouTube video of a couple being served at a Meadowbrook Diner does not identify the  location, the unique sign is a dead giveaway that this is in Indianapolis. Check out the carhop in the cowgirl outfit! This dates to the late 1950s, shortly after the diner arrived, but can anyone narrow down a year based on the car?

The diner, circa 2000

With a changing neighborhood demographic, from 1983 through 2001 the diner went from serving typical diner fare to southern home cooking. The name “Connie’s Soul Food Diner” reflects the change. (Undated photograph by Jim Rees)

The diner as a Subway

In 2002 the fare became fast food when the diner became a Subway restaurant. Owner Jay Pandey, who also owns the adjacent motel, gave the diner a facelift and fortunately the diner’s stainless steel still gleams, although a little overpowered by the bright signage.

With all of the recent food trucks popping up such as West Coast Tacos, Duos, and Scratchtruck, Indianapolis is enjoying a mobile diner revival with roots going back to the 1870s lunch wagons.

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10 responses to “Then and Now: Meadowbrook Diner, 5151 E. 38th Street”

  1. Jim Bellas Jr says:

    Hello
    I stumbled across your story on the Meadowbrook Diner. My dad, James Bellas is the original owner. He opened the diner in 1954. A native of Long Island, NY, he opened the Meadowbrook, and at that time was one of the first, possibly THE first diner ever to have been built in the east and transported by rail to the mid-west. I have a copy of a feature article about the Meadowbrook in DINER-DRIVE INN magazine from November 1954. My dad owned and operated numerous Diners and restaurants and the Meadowbrook was one of his most beloved. It was state-of-the-art at the time with a cost of “almost $200,000” in 1954!!

    Would love to hear more about the diner!

    Jimmy Bellas Jr

  2. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    We’d love to see the article! And usually, it’s family members like you that have more to add to the bits of the story we’ve uncovered! Thanks for your comments and email anytime: feedback (at) historicindianapolis.com

  3. Joan Hostetler says:

    Jim, I’m so glad you commented. Some histories state that the Meadowbrook opened in 1958, but was constructed in 1954 and I never understood the time delay. I’m sure you’re correct that it opened in 1954. I’d love to get a copy of the 1954 “Diner Drive-Inn” magazine article (heritagephotoservices@gmail.com). Were your father’s other diners in Indiana? I believe the very similar Mountain View diner near Clark’s Hill, IN was a couple of years older (about 1952). Any other stories or photos that you can share would be greatly appreciated. I included this diner in the exhibit “Diners, Ducks & Drive-Ins” at the Indiana Historical Society many years ago and will check my research files to see if I have more information to share with you.

  4. jary howley says:

    Jim bellas jr.–my dad sold that diner to your dad.

  5. Tj Clark says:

    In the mid-to late 1960’s, was the “Medowbrook” referred to as Dick’s Diner?

  6. Cassie says:

    Yes. I believe it was owned by the Mulholland family at that time.

  7. Shawn says:

    i was just reading a historical account of Greenfield Indiana and the article mentioned that this diner was originally setup on Indiana 67 as the Red Dragon. It then moved to Greenfield as the Peter Pan diner and then to the 38th Street location in Indy. If all these records are correct, that was a well travelled (and constructed) diner!

  8. Brigette Cook Jones says:

    Shawn….The Meadowbrook Diner has not moved from its original location. The author who attributed Greenfield’s Peter Pan’s diner as this one is mistaken.

    The Red Dragon Diner on SR 67 was moved to Greenfield in 1963. It was moved to the corner of State and Main Streets (where City Hall is today). When it was in Greenfield, it was called the Peter Pan Diner. It was moved from the corner of State and Main in 1965, but we don’t know where.

  9. Richard A. Griffith says:

    Reading this article reminded me of a small diner on US 36 to miles east of Danville Indiana called Vanhorn‘s diner. Do you have any information about it?
    Thank you,
    D. Griffith

  10. Mary MULHOLLAND says:

    From day 1, the Mulholland family only owned the land and leased that lot to the diner’s owner. In the late 70’s, the building was put on the tax block for non-payment of taxes. In order to not be stuck with an unchosen tenant or worse, having someone purchase the building at the tax sale & moving it & leaving the premises with a hole, I purchased it at the tax sale. I re-opened it as th’Diner (because that’s how the staff answered the phone and the community referred to it as “th’Diner”! After some rough armed robberies, I sold the both the motel and diner in 1980.
    I was just a little girl when the Bellases opened that diner. They had wonderful food, but behind the scenes, they were wonderful people! Very fond memories .

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