On Aug. 18, the popular Denver-area diner will serve its final meal as Zinn's. Owner Christian Lee Zinn II is selling the 53-year-old family business to Lyndon Quinn, owner of Lyndon Diner, for an undisclosed sum.
In addition, Ephrata Recreation Center will lease the 26-acre Zinn's Park behind the restaurant and may purchase the park in the future.
"This going-out-of-business thing isn't by choice," said the 45-year-old Zinn, who has worked at the diner since he was a child.
"It was a very emotional decision, and as we get closer to the end, I get more and more anxious. But there's not much I can do about it."
What a 1972 fire that gutted the restaurant failed to do, decreasing patronage has succeeded in doing. Business peaked in 1977, when Zinn's, then open 24 hours, served 758,000 customers. Last year, the diner served only 300,000 patrons.
Worried about diminishing revenues, Zinn tried to head off disaster and save the restaurant by selling the park. Several parties, including East Cocalico Township, expressed interest, but Zinn had no takers.
"We had to do something," he said.
That something, after much soul-searching, was to sell the restaurant.
"In the back of my mind, I thought it would come to this, but I hoped it wouldn't," Zinn said. "I wanted to stay in the diner business, but it wasn't in the cards."
Today's "shorter-attention-span society," with its fast-food chain stores, food courts, delivery service and other innovations, contributed to Zinn's decision to sell the restaurant, founded in 1950.
"But it's not just one thing," Zinn said. "It's a changing philosophy, a changing society. I think the whole Pennsylvania Dutch phenomenon has subsided over the years."
Zinn believes Quinn, who has diners in Manheim and Lancaster, will turn the struggling restaurant around.
"He'll come in here and spruce things up and get everybody's attention, and it will flourish," Zinn said. "I don't have enough cash to do that."
Zinn also has high hopes for the park under Ephrata Rec Center's guidance.
"The rec center is extremely smart in going after this thing," Zinn said. "If they hopefully build something else here -- indoor hockey or soccer, or hopefully, a full-blown rec center -- everybody's a winner."
The rec center will lease the park through October for $30,000, with an additional $17,000 final payment due Oct. 31. If the center then decides to buy the park, the lease money would be deducted from the undisclosed purchase price.
Ephrata Recreation director David Lloyd said the organization has been looking to establish recreational facilities in Cocalico Area School District.
"We have (more than) 6,200 members," Lloyd said. "Fifty-one percent of those live in the Ephrata school district. Of the remaining 49 percent, 26 percent live in the Cocalico school district.
"If someone like Gold's Gym or Bally's came in there and built a facility and we'd lose that 26 percent, it would be devastating. So we've been looking to develop a relationship or partnership somewhere in the Cocalico area."
Zinn's Diner was founded by Christian G. Zinn, who bought the old Island Diner that sat next to the site of the present business. With the Pennsylvania Turnpike nearing completion, he foresaw an increase in traffic.
Because Island Diner sat only about 55 patrons, Zinn sold it and bought a new Paramount dining car, which was installed on the present site.
On March 10, 1950, Zinn's Modern Diner opened its doors. Christian Lee Zinn, the current owner's father, joined the family business that year. In 1967, he bought the restaurant from his father, adding a wing in 1969.
Following the fire on Sept. 15, 1972, the restaurant was rebuilt. The park was added in 1975 and now includes a miniature golf course, softball field, batting cages, water games and picnic facilities.
The younger Zinn took over the restaurant after his father's retirement in 1996.
Since 1950, Zinn's has served more than 20 million customers.
Zinn is concerned about the fate of his 100-plus employees, some of whom he has known nearly all his life.
"This isn't about me," he said. "It's the countless people who've worked here over the 53 years. It's about them. To heck with Chris Zinn."
It's also about Amos. The statue may end up at Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., which already has some Zinn's Diner memorabilia in its "Automobiles in American Life" display.
"If I have to go out of business after 53 years, Amos will live on somehow," Zinn said.