Joe's Diner (placeholder name)

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Joe's Diner is a placeholder name for a fictional or hypothetical everyman's restaurant. Although there are franchises that use the name, its rhetorical use is often to describe a small, local business contrasted against large businesses or franchises. The phrase "Eat at Joe's" is a complementary fictional or hypothetical typical advertisement for such an establishment, and has itself become a snowclone in the form of X at Joe's, Eat at Y's, or simply X at Y's. It has also been noted that "[a] 'Joe's Diner' is an example of a weak name that would likely be unsuccessful suing another Joe's Diner in another state". [1]

In addition to the fictional and hypothetical senses, there are of course many real eating establishments named "Joe's Diner". Some were so named prior to the popularity of the term as a placeholder name, and their existence contributed to the rise of this placeholder name. A famous example is the Joe's Diner located in Lee, Massachusetts, which was the subject of Norman Rockwell's work "The Runaway".[2] Reporting on this iconic image, the New Yorker observed:

One thing Lee had going for it was Joe's Diner, and in a sense Joe's Diner was Lee. Without too much of a stretch, you could even say that the diner was America. In 1958, what became a famous Norman Rockwell image — a friendly cop and a would -be runaway boy, a hobo's bindle at his feet, eying each other from adjacent stools at the counter of a diner, with the counterman looking on — illustrated the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.[3]

The actual Joe of Joe's Diner is the man behind the counter in this classic picture. Others were created after the name became popular for this purpose, and were named to take advantage of the term.[citation needed] The grocery store chain, Trader Joe's uses "Joe's Diner" as its imprint for certain store brand frozen entrees.[4]

The corresponding expression, "Eat at Joe's", was a frequently-used gag in the Warner Bros. and MGM cartoons during the 1940s, typically used when an image of a neon sign or other complicated tubing would appear. One example occurs in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, in which Daffy Duck faces a host of dangerous characters, subduing them all, the final one being "Neon Noodle", whom he quickly twists into the shape of an "Eat at Joe's" neon sign, with a triumphant cry of "Tah-dah!" In another example, "Super-Rabbit", the scientist's laboratory shows liquid flowing through tubing, which at one point takes the shape of the sign. In another such gag, from "Jerky Turkey", a bear carries a sign that said "Eat at Joe's" through an entire episode, eventually going into the Joe's Diner followed by other. After a ruckus, the bear comes out with a new sign that says "I'm Joe"; after which, an X-ray view of the bear's stomach show the other two characters, one of which holds up a sign that says "Don't Eat at Joe's". In "Lights Fantastic", elaborate lights are used just to frame a sign for this. [5] Another cartoon, a joke-laden cruise, mentions the actual Sloppy Joe's Restaurant rather than using the generic "Eat at Joe's" gag.

The "Eat at Joe's" gag was so common in Warner Bros. cartoons that Cartoon Network made a spoof commercial for the "real-life" Joe's Diner. In this minute-long advertisement, Joe himself credits his success to "word of mouth" spread by the cartoon characters who frequent his establishment. [6] Characters visible in the commercial include Gossamer the hair monster, Bugs Bunny (in a photograph with Joe and walking through the diner), Tweety, Elmer Fudd, Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the cat, Yosemite Sam, Beaky Buzzard, Daffy Duck, opera singer Giovanni Jones (Bugs' antagonist in "Long-Haired Hare"), professional wrestler the Crusher (Bugs' antagonist in "Bunny Hugged"), Little Red Riding Hood (the "bobby-soxer" version from "Little Red Riding Rabbit"), the Road Runner, the mice Hubie and Bertie, and Michigan J. Frog sitting next to a plate of frogs' legs.

Eat at Joe's can also be a saying describing anything that is loud, gaudy, flashy or very noticeable. If someone saw their friend wearing a shirt with bright flashing LED blubs they might say in a somewhat mocking voice "That shirt man eat at Joe's!" In this manner the term is used not to reference an actual restaurant but the type of flashy signage that one might use.


  1. ^ Barry M. Levenson, Habeas Codfish: Reflections on Food and the Law (2001), p. 116.
  2. ^ Larry Cultrera, Classic Diners of Massachusetts (2011), p. 112.
  3. ^ The New Yorker (2001), Volume 77, Issues 1-9, p. 97.
  4. ^ See, for example, What's Good at Trader Joe's?: Joe's Diner Mac n' Cheese (August 17, 2010).
  5. ^ Youtube video, retrieved 18-March-2012
  6. ^ YouTube video, retrieved 29-July-2015