White Grill: 75 years and counting
White Grill's price sign is in keeping with the style of the vintage diner. Ralph Pokorny/Daily Mail
People from all walks of life have eaten at the White Grill since it opened its doors 75 years ago.
Even United States presidents.
Diane Wessley, who along with her sister Linda Gower, niece Taylor Gower and daughter -- and manager -- Megan Foster, currently own the Grill, as it has long been known by locals, said that Harry Truman ate there on some of his trips home from Washington, D.C.
"He said it was the best damned hamburger he ever had," Wessley said.
And presidents daughters have photographed the Grill, she said.
In the 1970s, Susan Ford, President Gerald Ford's daughter, was attending the University of Missouri's annual photojournalism workshop which that year was in Nevada and documented the White Grill.
"She climbed on top of the cigarette machine to take some photos," Wessley said.
And then there are the couples who met as teens at the Grill and come back each year to celebrate their anniversary.
Red McLaughlin opened the White Grill in 1938, as one of a chain of four or five restaurants. The others were in Fort Scott, Chanute, Iola, and Pittsburg, Kan. The White Grill is only one still open.
"He invented the Suzie Q's." Wessley said.
For the unitiated, Suzies are a mass of quarter inch strings of potatoes that are deep fried. They are still a staple item on the menu.
Wessley is the daughter of James and Shirley Novak, who bought into the business in 1963.
For Nevada area teens in the '50s, '60s and early '70s, the White Grill was the local hangout, much like Mel's Diner in "American Graffiti," said Richard Carpenter, who graduated from Nevada High School in 1967.
At that time, Highway 54 and 71 both passed in front of the White Grill before heading through the underpass.
The great pastime of Nevada teens in those days before the 1970's gas crisis was "The Cruise," which ran from the White Grill on the east, west down Walnut to Washington Street, then south to Austin, where they headed west to College Street and then south to Radio Springs, which was privately owned and featured live bands on some Friday and Saturday nights. Then the route was reversed.
Carpenter said before his family moved into town, they lived south of Nevada on Highway DD and like many families would come to Nevada on Saturdays to shop. Stopping at White Grill for a hamburger on their way home was a real treat.
After they moved to town and his older sister got her driver's license, Carpenter said, she would take him to the Grill where they could get a hamburger, Suzies and a Coke for 56 cents.
Carpenter's mother, who graduated from Nevada High School in 1939, would always tease them about how she could buy a hamburger for 5 cents or six for 25 cents in those days.
Like Mel's Diner, the White Grill had car hops and delivered meals to the car on yellow trays, Carpenter said, adding cars in those days were built so they could handle a tray heavily laden with an entire family's food.
Things changed in the late '60s and '70s when Highway 71 was moved out of town and Austin opened east from Washington Street, taking the once abundant highway traffic away.
One thing that didn't change was White Grill's menu, which is still much the same today. Hamburgers are still made from fresh ground beef and the fresh potatoes are turned into Suzies.
Wessley said the Grill has kept car hops and added barbecue to the menu. At some point, the Grill was expanded to more than the original four stools at the counter, and a couple of years ago, Wessley added seating at tables. And, 18 months ago they added an outside pavilion with picnic tables.
During the White Grill's histor,y many people have worked there, and this Saturday in celebration ,Wessley is inviting former employees to come back between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. and relive that part of their lives.
"I think it's going to be crazy Saturday. Like the last two times," Wessley said, adding that for the 70th anniversary cars were backed up to Osage.
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