Former NYC diner now serving in Wyoming town
LABARGE, Wyo. - Freshly fired from his job hauling mud, Joe Henshaw was propping up his spirits with a chili cheeseburger at an uncommon place for this remote western Wyoming town: A diner.
"A diner in LaBarge? That's like putting a fish in the Mojave Desert. Usually we kill our own food around here," he said during a recent lunch.
Making the Moondance Diner even stranger is that it's an import - an 80-year-old Manhattan eatery hauled out here and recently reopened.
But if Henshaw's luck is anything like that of the Moondance, which went through hell on the way to resurrection in Wyoming, better times lie ahead.
The former fixture of chic SoHo is now an incongruous landmark in sagebrush country, brought to its new home through eight states.
Even so, the Moondance hasn't looked this good in years - decades, maybe - and seems to be doing decent business serving ranchers, roughnecks, and visitors to Wyoming's scenic wonders.
Its owners, Cheryl and Vince Pierce, have realized their dream, despite enough setbacks to croon a country song. After months of weather complications and a struggle to secure financing for the $400,000 project, the diner opened in mid-January.
"The banks around here were pretty skeptical about the whole thing, you know, just because it was a restaurant and we're a small area," said Cheryl Pierce, a lifelong resident of Sublette County. "It was very difficult to convince them it's a worthy cause."
The Moondance Diner isn't the only Manhattan restaurant relocating. A businessman recently bought the Cheyenne Diner and plans to move the West Side eatery by flatbed truck to Birmingham, Ala.
The Pierces had been toying with the idea of starting a restaurant in LaBarge - a town of about 600 people 135 miles northeast of Salt Lake City - when Vince Pierce spotted the Moondance for sale in the summer of 2007. They flew out to New York a few days later. His wife had never been to the Big Apple before.
When they first stepped inside the weary old Moondance, they knew they were on to something.
"There was something in our gut that just said, 'This could be it,' " Cheryl Pierce said.
A few weeks later, Vince Pierce and Cheryl's father, who owns a trucking company, returned to Manhattan with a big rig and flatbed trailer. They paid just $7,500 to buy the diner and save it from condo development.
Everything considered, it wasn't exactly a bargain.
Torrential rains and permit snafus slowed them down before they even got the diner out of New York. A week later, they settled the diner onto stacks of railroad ties in LaBarge.
"It was a dilapidated little tin house," recalled Vince Pierce's mother, Judy McCracken, of Horse Prairie, Mont. "I started to cry."
Like any blue-collar Wyoming couple, the Pierces knew what to do. They got to work.
Working with a contractor, they removed everything inside: counters, stools, and fixtures. They scraped five layers of tile from the floor. They peeled off most of the stainless steel from the inside and outside. They stored the enormous "Moondance" sign and other salvageable items.
Then last winter, a blizzard dumped 18 inches of snow on the roof. The walls of the diner separated and the roof collapsed - while the general contractor and two workers were inside. No one was hurt.
One day last month, investment banker John Sanderson walked into the diner. A Manhattan resident for 31 years, he was traveling through on vacation.
"My first thought was, 'Have I eaten in here before?' " Sanderson said. "It's very possible."