The Banana Stand opened in Villa Ridge, Missouri about 35 miles west of St. Louis in 1923. The small roadside stand owned and operated by Spencer and Ursula Groff was an big hit. Every year the place expanded. In the 1930s the now restaurant was renamed The Diamonds. In 1947, The Diamonds were serve a record 1,480,000 customers. Everything was looking great. Luck would change for The Diamonds on February 28, 1948. A fire decimated the restaurant, gutting it beyond repair. But that would not be the end of the story. The Diamonds would reopen bigger and better than ever.
Former Banana Stand busboy Louis Eckelkamp was in charge of the restaurant at the time of fire and he vowed to make a new, bigger restaurant with everything needed for the traveling tourist.
The new Diamonds Restaurant opened on July 10, 1949 at its new location on U.S. Highway 50 and Route 66. The new fireproof building cost around $350,000 to erect. It contained a full basement, first floor seating for nearly 400 people, a coffee shop, cafeteria, curio shop, drive-in cafe, bus ticket office, travel bureau, popcorn stand and filling station. It was truly one-stop shop.
Upon opening, it was approximated that 75 buses a day stopped at The Diamonds, bringing the restaurant nearly 5,500 customers a day. The locals would also frequent the restaurant, knowing that that a pleasant atmosphere and good food could be found there.
The restaurant thrived for over 20 years at that location, but in 1971 The Diamonds had dreams of expanding. An even newer restaurant and motel would be built just slightly down the road on the more-traveled Interstate 44 and Grey Summit Interchange just off of Route 66.
The old building would become the Tri-Country Truck Stop. The restaurant building/truck stop would close in 2006. The building still stands and is said to be haunted. Supposedly, there is an apparition at the old restaurant and another presence nicknamed George. George has been “known” to get a little ghost-handsy with women. The old site is alleged to open sometime this year.
The motel featured 162 units and a pool. The new location offered more gas services and advertised itself as the closest fuel/lodging location to Six Flags. The new location, however would suffer. The fuel crisis of 1973, along with a crippling recession slowed traffic to a crawl. The Diamonds had been successful for so long that they were able to weather it, but they would never be the same.
Sometime in the mid 1980s, business had slowed to such a crawl that the decision was made to close the place down. The third Diamonds would sit idle for a bit and ultimately be torn down. The motel is still standing and is now the Travelodge Six Flags/Grey Summit.
One thought on “Diamonds Restaurant and Inn – Villa Ridge, Missouri”
I have a copper bookmark from the New Diamonds that my mom bought there in the late 1950’s.