The last Woolworth's lunch counter in the U.S. serves up burgers and shakes in Bakersfield, Calif.
Advertisement

If you're traveling through Bakersfield, Calif., just over 100 miles north of L.A. and the southern gateway to California's Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, take a moment to step back in time with a visit to the Five and Dime Antique Mall that's housed in the historic Woolworth Building.

The three-story building at the corner of 19th and K Streets is not only packed with antiques and collectibles, but has the last remaining Woolworth's Luncheonette still in business in the U.S. And yes, they're still serving hamburgers, hot dogs, and milkshakes seven days a week.

Jeremy and Joseph Trammell, brothers raised in Bakersfield, don't have a personal connection to the Woolworth's Luncheonette from their childhood, but they jumped at the chance to take over 11 years ago when a relative who was working in the antique mall shared the opportunity.

"Me and my younger brother talked about starting small and opening our own place, to learn and get our feet wet," Jeremy tells Allrecipes.com. When they learned of the opportunity to take over the iconic lunch counter inside the Five and Dime Antique Mall, they met with the building's owners, Linda and Mark Sheffield.

"For some crazy reason, they trusted us and believed in our dream," Jeremy says.

When asked who dines at the lunch counter, Jeremy says, "We have a real kind of cult following with a lot of regulars who are local; a lot of them are the business people on a one-hour lunch. There are also a lot of tourists who will stop by as they're passing through. We're a tourist attraction, and a terrific niche."

Woolworth lunch counter2_credit Visit Bakersfield
Credit: Visit Bakersfield

The luncheonette's menu is "80 percent burgers" with some sandwiches, like turkey and pastrami, and a chili cheese dog is on there, too. And then, there are the milkshakes.

"We're old school, and that's hard to find," Jeremy says. "Our ice cream is hand-dipped and hand-spun, served in a glass with whipped cream and a cherry on top, with the extra served in the tin it was made."

A Look Back at Woolworth's

The history of Woolworth's stores and lunch counters goes back more than 140 years when Frank W. Woolworth opened his first five-cent stores in Utica, N.Y. and Lancaster, Pa. in 1879; he holds the dubious distinction of being the originator of the five-and-ten variety store. Within the next decade, Woolworth opened 21 more stores in the Northeast, and by the end of 1904 he had 120 stores in 21 states, as far west as Colorado.

In 1909, Woolworth went international when he opened stores in Great Britain and Ireland, and had about 2,250 stores by 1929. In the decades that followed, F.W. Woolworth Co. purchased other store chains, including Foot Locker, and by 1982 F.W. Woolworth Co. had more than 8,000 stores around the world.

A change in the marketplace, most notably the increased competition from other discount retailers, led to Woolworth closing its remaining variety stores in the U.S. in 1997. An online store is still open for business, with today's prices, though you won't find luncheonette dishes available for delivery.

Woolworth's Diner
Credit: Woolworth's Diner Facebook

A Place In History

The Woolworth's lunch counter cemented its place in history during the Civil Rights Movement when, on Feb. 1, 1960, four African-American college students sat at the "whites only" counter in a Greensboro, N.C. store and asked to be served. When they were denied and asked to leave, the four young men continued to sit in their seats peacefully, and sparked "a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South," according to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

After six months of peaceful protest by students, civil rights organizations, churches, and the community, the Woolworth's lunch counter was desegregated on July 25, 1960. A small section of the historic lunch counter was donated to the Smithsonian and can be seen at the National Museum of American History.

Today's Woolworth's

Back in Bakersfield, the Woolworth's Luncheonette inside the Five and Dime Antique Mall draws visitors, many of whom stop just to see the still-serving lunch counter, along with those who take a seat to refuel before taking on more antique shopping.

"People love this building because the Woolworth's were basically the same all over the United States, even the world. When they come in here, whether they grew up in Bakersfield or not, they reminisce," co-owner Linda Sheffield, who owns the building with her husband, Mark, said in an interview with The Bakersfield Californian. "The diner, to our knowledge, that is the only original diner operating. The equipment, other than the updates, is original."

"I can appreciate and enjoy the history of it now," Jeremy Trammell says.

One look at the Yelp reviews and you'll find when it comes to the Woolworth's Luncheonette inside the antique mall, there are plenty of pleased customers. Chris S. wrote, "…a fantastic Woolworth Diner inside and it's is so retro and perfect like out of an old movie."

"You can't go wrong with one of their old fashioned shakes," wrote Paul N. "Tell all of your friends about the Woolworth's Diner after you enjoy a meal there with family and friends."