Oakley Diner brings traditional American flair to East Side
Head chef Eric May, a resident of Midway, looks forward to serving comfort food in Summit County
There aren’t many vehicles traveling on Browns Canyon Road, where the drive offers scenic farmland and sprawling mountain views, on a weekday afternoon. But if you keep right at the fork, just a few miles down the road, there’s bound to be at least a few packed into a metallic parking lot that stands out against the rural backdrop.
And just a few feet away, the hungry occupants have stepped back in time for a taste of nostalgia.
Traditional American flair: That’s what head chef Eric May is serving on the menu at the newly opened Oakley Diner on Weber Canyon Road. The eatery had a soft launch last month, and after working out a few kinks, it’s finally ready for a grand opening celebration this weekend.
May, a professional chef for 30 years including time spent at the Blue Boar Inn and Simon’s Restaurant in Midway, as well as stints at Sundance and in New York. He worked through a busy lunch service with his line crew on Thursday and May estimated they’re serving between 300 and 500 meals a day throughout breakfast, lunch and dinner now that the diner is fully open.
“[When people leave the diner] I want them to feel like coming back, that they had a pleasant experience from start to finish from the moment they were greeted and sat,” May said.
Many of the patrons live in Summit and Wasatch counties, and they wanted to see how the new establishment compares to the former Road Island Diner, which closed in 2021 because of labor shortages. Marion native Steve Smith purchased the retro train-car-style restaurant soon after, and he has been working to reopen it ever since.
Some customers come from farther away, such as Salt Lake, Orem and Evanston.
Deanna Mikkelsen and Bella Beganovic, who are from Toronto, Canada, found themselves at the Oakley Diner for a midweek lunch after completing a horseback riding trip around the Wasatch Range. The tour guide suggested they make a stop on the way back down the mountain. So, they did.
“We’re always looking for somewhere authentic or a little hole in the wall,” Beganovic said, joking that she is a breakfast connoisseur.
The pair, who were visiting Utah for the first time on a girls’ trip, said Canada has plenty of American-style diners, but they’re often chain restaurants as opposed to mom-and-pop shops. The Canadians ordered cookies and cream and strawberry milkshakes as appetizers before they prepared to chow down on a Denver omelet and baked mac and cheese.
Chef May, who curated the Oakley Diner menu with an emphasis on fresh, in-house ingredients, said people’s love of comfort food brings them in. For example, the chefs use their hands to ball and patty the meat for the Oakley Burger — a 7 oz double patty burger with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onions. The potato bun it comes on is also made from scratch by the diner’s pastry chef.
Renovations at the historic site have included creating the Oakley Bakery in the basement in addition to extending the train car to accommodate more people.
Lita Muliadi, the restaurant manager and May’s wife, will also run the bakery. When operational, it will supply the diner with sourdough, cinnamon swirl brioche, whole wheat bread and plenty of desserts for the diner. Customers can also go in and purchase exclusive sweet treats. It’s set to open in about two weeks.
“I hate saying this, but our food is only going to get better when that opens,” May said.
There will also be a drive-thru with offerings from Oakley Coffee Roasting and the soda shop FiiZ Drinks. The establishments are technically separate entities from Smith’s Oakley’s Diner, but it’s all a part of his vision for the city center.
Part of that plan includes turning the diner into a destination that draws people into the community. May said the staff has done well to achieve that goal so far with 95% positive reviews during the first month and many bumps smoothed out along the way.
The biggest challenge thus far has been staffing. May said the diner is a little short-handed with employees working long hours. However, Smith is committed to providing wages comparable to the Park City area, flexible schedules and benefits which have aided in attracting and retaining an energized staff.
“We want people who are willing to go that extra distance,” May said.
Kaydence Rhoads, a 19-year-old from Francis, watched the building progress of the Oakley Diner and decided to apply for a server job. She used to visit when it was the Road Island Diner and has loved the opportunity to connect with community members. It’s been going well so far, she said, and there are already a few regulars. The food is good, too. She recommends the Cowboy Benedict made with an Oakley Bakery jalapeno-cheddar biscuit.
To keep the success of the Oakley Diner going, consistency will be key. May said keeping the food, staff and service at a high quality will naturally bring repeat customers.
“Soon, they’re going to be coming up for the leaves. They’re coming up Mirror Lake Highway. They’re coming up for Smith and Morehouse. The summer will be busy, I think we’ll attract the snowmobilers in the wintertime, and I think we’ve made a positive impact on the locals. We have a lot of people we are feeding here three or four times a week,” he said.
There’s a couple from Kamas who often stop in because they do not like to cook. Others are just drawn to the atmosphere.
Original elements of the dining car, which was manufactured in 1939 and brought to Oakley by businessman Keith Walker in 2007, remain such as the chrome paneling and the letterboard menu. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 yet there’s still a refreshed tone throughout the restaurant.
Rhoads, meanwhile, said she hopes the vibrant feeling inside the restaurant emanates around town, a necessary ingredient to cook up more businesses and opportunities for locals.
But until then, the Oakley Diner grand opening celebration will run Friday through Sunday. The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. year-round.
Traditional American flair: That’s what head chef Eric May is serving on the menu at the newly opened Oakley Diner on Weber Canyon Road.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.