August marked the end of a longtime mainstay in Flagstaff, the Galaxy Diner. For a restaurant known for its loud mid-century charm, the closure was a quiet one, marked only by a paper sign and a locked door.
The note, which seemed to replace another sign about the how the diner was merely closed for renovations, was from the restaurant's landlord, a San Francisco-based investment company called TAM Holdings.
According to the note, the diner closed and its lease was terminated because the owner, Tempe-based company JB’s Restaurants, had not paid its rent.
First built in 1958, but given its classic look in 1994, the diner had become a destination popular with tourists and locals alike for its Route 66 charm.
“I have a lot of memories there,” said Autumn Pullem, who worked at the diner with her father from 2007 to 2014, adding it will be missed not only for its retro charm but for the communities who came together around it.
Will Pullem, Autumn’s father, could not be reached in time for publication but worked at the Galaxy Diner even longer, from 2005 to 2017. At that time, he worked as the restaurant's manager, a position he and Autumn would eventually come to share.
For a college job, Autumn said it was almost a magical place to work. Between weekly classic car events and swing dancing on weekends and live music, it felt like there was almost always something going on.
Those who worked there became a real community, Autumn said, in part because a lot of them were fairly similar. Many of the employees, like Autumn, were broke college kids, but they could grow closer as they worked through their years at university and at the diner.
The employees were especially proud of the number of desserts the restaurant had to offer, including 100 different flavors of milkshakes and malts, and that you could order breakfast all day every day, Autumn said.
“I still make a mean banana split,” she said.
And with the chrome-plated furniture, jukebox and tile floors, Autumn said it often felt like you were stepping back in time.
“Not many people can say they worked in an actual '50s diner,” Autumn said. “People loved it, we always got a lot of positive feedback.”
Autumn wasn’t the only one who felt like the diner could bring them to another world. Lily Davis, an NAU senior and member of the Flagstaff Swing Club, also compared the diner to a time machine. Fellow NAU senior and president of the Swing Club Megan Brown said the club held swing dance classes and dances at the diner up until 2017. Brown said at times, they would have as many as 30 people in the diner for swing dancing on top of those in the diner to simply eat.
Davis said some of the dancers, including her and Brown, would also dress up in vintage clothes for the lessons.
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“It may have been a little intimidating,” Davis said. “But our presence there also, I think, added to that time machine feeling.”
And occasionally, even a visiting customer would join in to the dancing, Davis said.
Davis said her favorite item to order was simply a strawberry milkshake, but on dance night, everyone could be sure the diner would be going through a lot of fries and a lot of veggie burgers.
Autumn said thinking back to the times she was working at the diner is bittersweet now. She said the experience she gained there certainly shaped the career she has now as the manager of another restaurant in the San Diego area.
The diner always had a lot of regulars, Autumn said, people who would be at the door when they opened at 6 a.m. and sit in the same booth every day.
Exactly what led to the diner’s closure is not fully clear, but it appears the closure was a result of the diner's corporate owner closing the doors.
JB’s Restaurants, based out of Tempe, did not respond to request for comment and the Daily Sun was unable to locate any filing for bankruptcy.
Nonetheless, JB’s Restaurants -- which was founded more than half a century ago in Provo, Utah -- has had financial trouble for the past decade, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
After operating as many as 107 restaurants across the Intermountain West in the '80s, it appears there are only a handful left, mainly in Arizona, Utah and Montana.
Autumn said in her experience, many restaurants that are part of large corporate structures like Coco’s and Galaxy Diner have struggled to compete with the increased popularity of smaller more local and boutique dining experiences.
In 1996, JB’s restaurants was bought by CKE Restaurants Inc. which also owned the brands Carl's Jr. and Hardies restaurants. After that, the company was sold twice more, eventually coming to be owned by LBW Investments, which could not be reached for comment.
TAM Holdings, which owns the property the diner occupies, did not respond to requests for comment on the possible future of the property.