During the late 1960’s my family lived in Glen Oaks until I was three. One of the things I remember most of my short time there was this little burger joint that stood on the north side of Union Turnpike near the movie theater. It was dark inside, bluish purplish walls, counter on one side, tables on the other. Not the kind of place a kid would remember, except for the fact that it featured a model train set running on tracks delivering food to its patrons. In my memory the tracks ran all over the place. They went in and out of the walls, up and down, high and low, in and out. Memory exaggerates perhaps, but I’m sure but there was definitely a restaurant on Union Turnpike and it did use model trains to deliver orders to customers.
Once my family moved out of Glen Oaks I never set foot in the Hamburger Coach again. There were eateries based on the same concept but they too closed, and I never was able to walk into another burger joint that delivered food to my counter via train. You never know when your last chance to get to do something may have already come and gone, and for me, food by train ended before I reached Kindergarten.
There were several train oriented restaurants operating in our area in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. There was a Hamburger Train on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, a Hamburger Express in Garden City. Hewlett had a Hamburger Local, Bayside and the Bronx had a Hamburger Express. The most popular of these, and the one that seemed destined to outlive the others was the Hamburger Choo Choo on Main Street in Huntington. It was popular and had a reputation for having food that was quite good. It might still be open today if not for a grease fire which burned it down on March 20, 1982. It’s turn of the century wood frame building did little to help save it, and within just a few short minutes the treasured Hamburger Choo Choo had served its last burger.
New York has been without a model train counter since, but the Chicago area has a restaurant that has been open for decades. The Choo Choo, according to The Des Plaines Patch, was borne out of an idea that originated with World War Veteran Roy Ballowe. His brother James and wife Marilyn went with it and opened the Choo Choo. Their place has stood the test of time, and the concept is getting new life; The All Aboard Diner in nearby Downers Grove is now running a similar operation, with a train running all around its large double sided inner counter.
For me, Downers Grove is about the same distance from NYC as Des Plaines, so my nostalgic stop for local food via express train will still have to wait. Ray Kroc of McDonalds fame opened one of his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines. It is said that Kroc paid a visit to the Choo Choo and assured the owners his fast food restaurant would be no match for theirs.
I have not been able to find a photo of the Hamburger Coach in Glen Oaks. The only tangible documentation I found of the place was a help wanted ad for a waitress in March 1966. There are only a few photos of the other similar places that once existed in our region. Hopefully someday someone will open a train delivery restaurant again in our area so we can relive the memories, or at least track down a photo of the Hamburger Coach. Below is a collage of some photos of the New York hamburger train places I was able to find.
Hamburger Express, 7th Street, Garden City
Hamburger Choo Choo, Main Street, Huntington