Friday, November 16, 2007

Uncle Bob's Diner

Once you start talking about mistakes Flint has made related to historic preservation, especially downtown, it can turn into a very long conversation. But I can’t help myself. I have to talk about Uncle Bob’s Diner.

Generations of Flint residents ate at Uncle Bob’s, located near the Capitol Theater. Built in 1947 by the Jerry O'Mahony Dining Car Company, it was a destination for everyone from downtown business people at lunchtime to college kids looking for excitement after GMI formals. It even had a short run as a weird little new wave hangout in the ‘80s. But that was near the end. While the Flint braintrust was building AutoWorld, Uncle Bob’s was closed and decaying.

The good news is that Jerry Berta, a sculptor who specialized in ceramic art related to diners, bought the diner in 1986 for $2,000. The bad news — for Flint, anyway — is that he moved it to Rockford, Michigan.

''People all over knew about Uncle Bob's,'' Mr. Berta told The New York Times in 1988. ''I had a guy from Madison, Wis., write to me, saying he'd spent every night for four years in the ‘50's at this place.''

Berta and his wife, Madeline Kaczmarczyk, an artist, spent $50,000 restoring the place, right down to the original pink Formica ceilings, porcelain enamel exterior and stainless-steel sunburst patterns.

They envisioned an art studio — a diner filled with diner art called The Diner Store — but visitors kept showing up for food. So Berta bought a few more old diners from various places, and started serving food at Rosie’s Diner. In 1993 Berta decided to add a putt-putt course. It was not your average mini-golf setup; almost every hole has a cement sculpture of big food or art. He called the whole place Dinerland.

In 1996, Berta was able to put another neon sign in the window that stated, "Over One Million Served Right!" It went up as Jack Tietsama enjoyed the one millionth meal served at Rosie's in Rockford. The artists sold the diners in 2006 to Randy and Jonelle Roest, who continue to manage the popular attraction.

Flint ain’t Rockford, so I’m not claiming that this could have happened in the Vehicle City. But you never know.


  1. I used to stop in at Uncle Bob's diner when I was a boy of 10 living in Flint. That place was absolute heaven and I loved the smell inside and the food was the best in the whole wide world - at least I thought so! I will forever miss Uncle Bob's Diner and even to this day I sometimes look for it whenever I'm downtown. I'm 62 now and I say bring it back!! Bring back the 1950s !!
    - David L Strong, Clio, Michigan July 5, 2011

  2. Jerry Berta u sure HAD a good thing going when u ran it.i understand the part of wanting out.i dont know any way to tell if someone means buisness with a new buisness they want to buy.but if there had been it sure would ave been nice.i hope someone does better this time around. when u ran it was something. last jan in 2011 the last time i was there i regreted being there it was a mess.not very many people in seemed to many workers standing around.

  3. As a young man I worked a block from Uncle Bob's at the Flint Journal. It was great place for lunch or to take a date after going to the Capital or Palace Theaters. Jerry Berta who puchased it and moved it to Rockford MI used too be a tax client of mine so I DO know Uncle bob's.

  4. I was 3 an 4 when my mom an dad stsrted tsking me downtown to the capital then we would walkbto unvle bobs gor burgers and ff and shakes we continued to go thete till it closed I loved it

  5. My grandma was a waitress at Uncle Bob's when I was quite small. I just adored going to work with her; seeing the regulars, eating lemon slices at the counter, spinning on the stools. It was just a wonderful, friendly, comfortable place.

  6. I just caught a 2008 episode of "Food Paradise" and was thrilled to see that Uncle Bob's had been moved to Dinerland, and not been lost to the wasteland that downtown Flint had become.

    So many happy memories (late 1950's) of afternoon shopping with my mom at Maas and Smith-Bridgman, and just before the new school year, Buster Brown Shoes, then crossing the brick streets to meet up with my dad at Uncle Bob's for red pop and strawberry cheesecake (I'm sure we ate actual meals in there too, but all my brother and I cared about were the red pop and cheesecake.)

    Now I see that Dinerland, too, is closed. Wonder if Greenfield Village is in the market for a real Michigan treasure, or if Uncle Bob's is destined to become just another nostalgic memory.

  7. The most recent owner and operator, Jonelle Woods, filed Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy in 2011. Apparently the restaurant company also went bankrupt.

    At the time, it appeared from Kent County records that the property, and likely the buildings, belonged to Woodcock Real Properties LLC, a real estate holding company controlled by Jon Woods of Bloomfield Hills...Jonelle's father.

    My guess would be that if the buildings are not being actively maintained, probably they still belong to Mr. Woods' real estate company. If they'd been sold, likely the new owner would be doing something with them.

    I just mention that in case anybody wants to buy the Uncle Bob's building and move it back to Flint.

  8. I was the neighborhood kid of the baker who baked the cheese cakes and danish at Uncle Bob's
    Diner. His name was Stewart Hinkins, and lived in Davison, Mi.

    1. I have been looking for that cheesecake recipe for years! Any chance you would have it or know where I could get it?

    2. It was in the Flint Journal many many years ago. I wish I had it too.

  9. before visiting family in Flint from Grand Rapids my parents made a beeline for Uncle Bob's , as a little kid i thought was a actually relative. when we got to the relative they always had food prepared but we were all full.

  10. Rhonda Johnson CrandallDecember 26, 2016 at 4:40 PM

    We lived in Burton and it was such a treat when my mom took myself and 2 sisters there. We always had the rare roast beef sandwich with butter on it. And of course potatoe chips and a dill pickle spear, so good.

  11. When I was a teenager a great date was a movie at the Capitol and then a later dinner at Uncle Bob's. Now when I'm downtown I almost always look over to the spot where it used to be. Sad.

  12. Uncle Bob was Robert Hurst, he and my great aunt Roberta Bowman owned and ran the original diner from the mid/late 50's til about 1975ish. Bob was the baker of the two and it was cheese cakes everyone came for. while my aunt, (and the rest of the Bowmans) had a knack of making thee best onion rings anywhere. while i was only a kid back then i remember fondly going there after church, sitting at the counter and getting a spatula slap on the head everytime i went.

  13. I remember going there when I was young. It was a big event to go there with my Mom. We took the bus to downtown Flint and went to my dance class at Honolulu Conservatory of Michigan and then would have lunch sometimes at the Home Dairy and sometimes Uncle Bob's. It was a very special afternoon my Mom and I had. Absolutely loved it. In those days you dressed up to go "downtown". We took the trolly cars before the bus came into use.


Thanks for commenting. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at