Service with a Side of Fries
From the shiny stools, to soda jerks mixing sodas from scratch, to the jukebox playing tunes in the background, the diner is a quintessential slice of Americana. It’s home to granite countertops, thick, juicy burgers sizzling on the grill and friendly conversation. But if you find yourself in need of a tune-up in Oneonta, New York, and have a hankering for diner fare, you can order up an oil change with a side of fries.
“Back in the day, all up and down Route 66, every garage had a diner,” said Heather Mann, cook at Action Lube’s diner, Soda Jerks. “But now with the interstates and throughways, it’s all rest stops and fast food.”
That’s exactly what makes Action Lube and Soda Jerks so special. Mann’s parents, Linda and Ernest “Butch” Burgher took over Action Lube in 1997 and have been operating a full-service garage for almost 20 years, but it was a lifelong dream of the family to own and operate a restaurant.
“It’s always been kind of a family joke, and a dream, that we would have a restaurant someday,” Mann said. “My mother came from a diner family. My grandparents had a diner in the ‘60s and ‘70s called West End Diner. The location was right across from where we are located now. My mother has always been a food person by nature. She just married into cars.”
It was just a natural progression to fulfill a long dream.
“My husband, Tim, worked in other restaurants,” Mann said. “But we would always say that one day we would have our own restaurant and we won’t have to work for other people.
In 2012, that dream came to fruition when Soda Jerks first opened its doors, with Mann and her husband Tim at the helm.
“It was a three-year process to build the diner,” Mann said. “We did a lot of it ourselves. We really wanted it to be authentic, so it took a lot of time to find things.”
Topping the list of things to find on their quest for authenticity was a soda fountain.
“We have a soda fountain that is original,” Mann said. “It was like a scene out of an ‘American Pickers’ episode. We were in a barn of old equipment, and we said, ‘We really want a soda fountain, even if it doesn’t work. We just want a show piece.’ The guy said, ‘You know, I think I have one of those.’ He pulled the tarp off of it, and it was filthy, but we could see the potential.”
As it turns out, they had stumbled upon a diamond in the rough.
“We came back two weeks later, and he had it all cleaned up. It is stainless steel, it is gorgeous and it works,” Mann said.
Today, if you pay a visit to Action Lube and Soda Jerks, and find yourself craving a chocolate cherry cola or a vanilla pomegranate Sprite, they can whip it up, made-to-order.
“We make all of our sodas from scratch, just like they would have done in the ‘50s. We make it by the pump,” Mann said.
The authenticity even extends to the menu offerings.
“We have a traditional Brooklyn Egg Crème on the menu,” Mann said. “Until 1920, it actually came with an egg mixed into it. Now, it’s a mixture of the chocolate syrup and whole milk. You fill the glass halfway and then add soda water. It’s like a carbonated chocolate milk.”