January 3, 2014
88 Years of “Good American Food”
Millie’s Diner used to be Galion’s stationary dining car
It’s changed hands and names a few times, but Millie’s Diner has always served “good American food,” like biscuits and gravy or grilled cheese.
That’s what owner Kathy Bartholomew said, and since she’s got a slew of regular customers, she isn’t lying. Bartholomew has run the diner on Harding Way East at Washington Street next to the train tracks since 1985, when her parents retired from the business.
Many regular customers are quite possessive of “their” seats, whether out front, near historical images of Galion and family pictures from Bartho-lomew’s Christmases, or in the hidden back room where Bartholomew has overflow seating situated under a U.S. map she found and hung there as a conversation piece. She’s on a first-name basis with most of the regulars.
“They all become family,” Bartholomew said. “It’s like at home.” A home where a photo of a 1957 Bel-Air convertible, given to Bartholomew by a longtime customer and friend, is hung above the dishes.
The diner gets its name from Bartho-lomew’s mother, Millie Carter. Bartholomew said her father, Ward Carter, named the diner after her mother because Millie always joked that if she was married long enough to Ward, she’d have her name in lights.
An owner’s name has nearly always graced the diner. Before getting renamed Millie’s, it was called Palmer’s, a name Bartholomew remembers from her childhood.
“I came here when I was a little girl and Ralph was cooking,” Bartholomew said, referring to then-owner Ralph Palmer. He cooked on the grill right out front, in full view of diners. The grill stayed out front when the Carters owned it and was only moved into the back rooms after Bartholomew took over the diner.
The diner first came to Galion as “Root’s Diner,” a real train dining car that Ed Root brought to town in 1923. One of the diner’s former owners, Howard Whitesell, wrote a history of the dining establishment which was donated to the Galion Historical Society in 1994 after being passed from person to person a few times.
The history was published in the Galion Inquirer on New Year’s Eve, 1994, with a picture of the dining car, also donated to the society.
According to that history, Root set the dining car just east of what’s now the Galion municipal building, and in 1929 moved it across the street beside the old Interurban Depot.
Then the Great Depression set in. The diner failed and the Root family moved back to New York, their former home. Whitesell bought the dining car in 1933, reopened it and renamed it “The Galion Diner.”
He also moved it to the northwest corner of Harding Way East and Washington Street—the third location for the car, but still in the 300 block of Harding Way East.
“One of our slogans at the diner was, ‘we seat 18,000, 18 at a time,’” wrote Whitesell in the history. “Since very few married couples ate out, another slogan was ‘take her out to eat once a week.’”
Eight years later he sold the dining car, and by 1953 it was in the hands of Gilbert and Edna Palmer, Ralph Palmer’s parents. By then the dining car had also been replaced by the current building on the southwest corner of Harding Way and Washington Street. The elder Palmers passed it on to their son Ralph, and one of Ralph Palmer’s employees, Carolyn Ball, still works at Millie’s today. The regulars know they can joke around with Ball.
“They pick on her terribly,” Bartholomew said as she laughed. Ball is one of six employees at Millie’s Diner.
Bartholomew’s parents bought the diner from Margaret Valiant, the owner who had the diner after the Palmers. Just as Bartholomew grew up spending time in the diner, one of Bartholomew’s children, Logan, was born just before she took over the diner from her parents. She remembered that her son sometimes slept at the diner while he was growing up.
Biscuits and gravy has been a consistently popular breakfast over the years, Bartholomew said. She’s also had plenty of requests for the “Millie’s omelets” the diner serves, filled with three meats, several vegetables and other additions to the eggs.
Bartholomew said she still has an active breakfast crowd but hopes to see business pick up as the economy recovers.