The Republican Herald

Dream City serves up nostalgia

- BY STEPHEN J. PYTAK STAFF WRITER spytak@republican­

PORT CARBON— While a historic diner in Pottsville just reopened, another in Schuylkill County with a new owner and a new name is recognizin­g some local history.

Known for many years as “John’s Family Restaurant” in East Norwegian Township, the eatery at 276 Route 209 became the “Dream City Diner” in June 2012, according to the new owner, Kathleen Ellis, Cumbola.

“And when I received my business license I was surprised to find out that the day I got my license was the same day 75 years ago that Dream City Park was establishe­d, May 31, 2012,” Ellis said Jan. 17.

On Monday morning, Harry Russell, 66, of Cumbola, sat down in a booth at the restaurant a mile southwest of Port Carbon, with a bowl of oatmeal, some milk, apple juice and toast.

“She’s doing good. The food is better, so is the service,” Russell said.

“There’s a regular crew that comes in every morning. It’s been that way for more than 20 years,” Ellis said.

The diner is open 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. seven days a week. And starting Friday, the restaurant will also be open from4 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The one-story diner with the red roof serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and menu items including “steaks, chops, seafood, burgers, ice cream and hot dogs,” according to the sign in front of the establishm­ent.

One of the popular items on the menu, according to Ellis is “Our Famous Creamed Chipped Beef” (served over toast or home fries).

A few photos of the former “Dream City Park” are framed above the booths. Ellis said she’s collecting memorabili­a from the park and hoping to decorate the diner with more of it in the future.

The former Dream City Park was a family amusement park which was located across the street from the diner many years ago.

A brief history of the park can be found in “A Lifetime of Memories,” a publicatio­n released for the Port Carbon Sesquicent­ennial. Excerpts can be found on the website for “Port Carbon Borough” at portcarbon­

“The oldest residents of Port Carbon remember what was called Schuylkill Park or also Dream City Park. Dream City is affectiona­tely remembered as an amusement park, which was situated just to the east of the borough limits in East Norwegian Township near Five Points. There is nothing left of what was Dream City, but the photograph­s and memories of the roller coaster, swimming pool, dance hall and related dance marathons speak volumes of the popularity of this local resort. Dream City was locat-

ed on the north side of Route 209 in the clearing within a mile beyond the borough limits. Schuylkill Park or Dream City was a popular destinatio­n during the 1920s and 1930s,” according to the site.

According to the online Schuylkill Parcel Locator, the property at 276 Route 209 is owned by John M. Nicolas, Pottsville, who bought it from Joseph F. Sulikoski in June 1999 for $50,000.

The building was erected in 1962, according to the parcel locator.

Russell said it was first the “Austin Drive-In.”

“I remember we used to come here for ‘The Austin Burger,’ ” Russell said.

Born in Tamaqua, June 21, 1972, Ellis is the daughter of Brian Dougherty and the late Prisilla Dougherty. She said she remembers her parents first brought her to the diner in 1974.

Nicolas, 84, said Monday he ran his restaurant there for 21 years. “It was John’s Drive-In in the beginning, but I changed it to John’s Family Restaurant. People were calling thinking it was a movie theater. They’d say: ‘What are you playing tonight?’ I think that was around 2000,” Nicolas said.

Nicolas said he also ran the Garfield Diner in Pottsville from 2006 to 2008.

Nicolas said he broke his hip in January 2012, but continued to operate “John’s Family Restaurant.”

“We stayed open. Kathleen came to see me in May. She wanted to take over. I stayed there for two to three weeks to train her on how to run the business. And she did it,” Nicolas said Monday.

“I used to come in here with my mom when I was a kid. She was one of the reasons I purchased the diner. It was her favorite spot,” Ellis said of her mother.

For 17 years, Nicolas ran “John’s Family Restaurant” there. He closed it in March to retire, Ellis said.

Ellis developed a lease-to-own agree- ment with Nicolas and opened “Dream City Diner” in June.

“It was John’s idea to call it ‘Dream City Diner.’ He said, ‘if I could do it all over again I would rename it.’ And I said ‘why?’ And he said ‘because of the history in the area.’ This got me curious, because I’m a big history buff. So I asked him, ‘what would you have called it?’ And he said ‘Dream City Diner.’ And it stuck,” Ellis said.

Ellis graduated from Mahanoy Area School District in 1990 and earned a associate degree in the paralegal program at McCann’s School of Business, Pottsville, in 2009.

Her staff is made up of family members. Her son, Eric Ulrich, 17, is a cook.

She has dreams for the future of the business. She’d like to be make it a drive-in once again.

Meanwhile, the Garfield Diner at 402 W. Market St., Pottsville, closed since January 2011, officially reopened Tuesday.

 ?? NICK MEYER/STAFF PHOTO ?? Eric Ulrich, cook, makes eggs and pancakes Monday at the Dream City Diner, Port Carbon.
NICK MEYER/STAFF PHOTO Eric Ulrich, cook, makes eggs and pancakes Monday at the Dream City Diner, Port Carbon.

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