Oakley’s Road Island Diner closes

Staffing shortage claims East Side landmark

Oakley’s Road Island Diner has closed its doors, according to its longtime manager, with staffing shortages plaguing the business.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

The Road Island Diner, the retro train-car-style eatery that was an Oakley landmark for 15 years, boasted food made from scratch and was a staple for many who passed through the East Side hamlet on their way to the Uinta Mountains, has closed.

Steve Butler, who ran the diner with his wife, Ginny, said it wasn’t the pandemic that forced the closure, but rather the challenge of finding and keeping staff. The pair, who also run a catering company and a bed-and-breakfast in Oakley, pride themselves on preparing fresh, homemade food. But without enough employees, the time-consuming and labor-intensive work fell to them. Butler said it wasn’t sustainable.

“We were doing 6 a.m. to 10 or 11 at night, five days a week. I’m running 60 flights of stairs, walking 10 to 12 miles a day,” he said. “I’m 60-some years old, I just can’t keep doing it. It’s literally killing us.”

The diner is a memorable sight at the corner of Weber Canyon Road and S.R. 32 in Oakley and has served many who visited the East Side on their way to the Uinta Mountains, as well as more than a few locals.

It’s the community at the restaurant that Butler said he’d miss most.

The diner was designed to look like a train car and was manufactured on the East Coast in the 1930s, its owner Keith Walker has told The Park Record. Walker owns the building, while the Butlers owned the business.

It took three months in 2007 for the diner to make its way to Oakley from Rhode Island on the back of a flatbed truck, mostly on back roads because it was kept off interstate highways.

The diner opened in its present location in 2008 after it was refurbished for the better part of a year while it sat near Oakley City Hall.

It’s unclear what the future will be for the building itself. Attempts to contact Walker were unsuccessful.

The Road Island Diner, located at the intersection of Weber Canyon Road and S.R. 32 has closed.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Butler in an interview Monday said he and his wife operated the diner for eight years — “Eight good years” — and that he was trying to recover from closing the business. He said the couple’s next steps were in flux.

“It’s just kind of sad to lose it because you don’t have enough help to keep it going,” he said.

He said the diner’s last day was Sunday, June 27.

“No one will work, just a total lack of help,” he said. “It was just my wife and I making everything from scratch, (preparing) everything. We make french fries, we made prime rib every day. Corned beef, meatloaf — do everything from scratch. Just can’t prep everything and cook everything.”

He said the restaurant was at least four or five employees short of what it would need. Despite staffing challenges, Butler said he didn’t consider cutting back on the workload by ordering premade food from elsewhere.

“A real diner deserves real food,” he said.

Butler said he and his wife expected they would concentrate on their catering business and bed-and-breakfast, but with industry-wide staffing shortages, he indicated there would be plenty of restaurant jobs available.

Butler said the shortage has resulted in cooks and waiters who move between jobs, seeking higher wages.

“But it’s about time the restaurant industry, service-industry workers get paid what they’re worth. They’ve been cheated for so long,” he said. “I’d love to pay people $15 an hour, I’d love to give them (health) insurance. It’s the first thing we’d do if we had the money for it.”

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