TEXARKANA, Texas — Tucked away in the Texas-side Oaklawn Village Shopping Center, Shorty's Donut Shop and Diner's daily menu hearkens back to an earlier era, and now its decor does the same.
A Shorty's regular and true artistic soul, Richard Cramer, was enlisted to give the diner a facelift, and his work is a testament to the power of reusing found objects in a creative way, much as artists do with assemblage sculptures.
If you ever get the chance to visit Cramer's home, you'll see that idea put into action, as it's where he has a "Groovy Room." It features everything from old album covers to lava lamps and model trains, World War II planes and black lights to a 1970s Pioneer stereo and a drum set to the cozy chair.
That room is a marvel, and similar principles of decor appear to be at work with the Shorty's wall redo.
What's on the walls now? A picture of farm fresh eggs, except they're oversized and delivered in a pickup truck. An owl drawn on wood. An old sign that says: "I don't need an inspirational quote. I need coffee." A lamp. Small stuffed animal mice. Fancy hats. Tiny farm critter figures. A shotgun cleaning kit. Wooden boxes and drawers with knickknacks galore inside. Country-motif fashion imagery. Metal toys. An advertisement for Calumet Baking Powder. An Alamo dish. Sauce pans and cheese graters. Rolling pins.
Working swing shift, Cramer made a habit of eating at Shorty's weekly, and so he wanted to help co-owner Anna Allgor with her Shorty's facelift project. He told her if she wanted to finish the place up, he could do it, having a house full of art.
"It just blew up and I ran with it. The theme was, she's a country girl," Cramer said.
Cramer's about to retire this year after 36 years at Red River Army Depot and ready for projects like this. "I just want to do stuff like Shorty's, do artwork and stuff and enjoy that," he says.
Old wood, vintage pictures of trees and birds — such were the type of things Cramer had on hand. And he found more: supplies from a Cass County friend and fellow antique appreciator named "Buffalo Dave," who built his own outhouse and had wood and tin to offer.
Cramer pre-cut the old wood and tin at his home, then took it to Shorty's. A weathered door from the 1800s that he'd left in the elements became useful, as did a chest of drawers from the same era.
"It was full-focus on it," Cramer said about working on the Shorty's project. He also found materials that used to belong to his mother. He pored through boxes and found old pans and such.
For an old-school diner, it all fits. Cramer describes it this way: "An accumulation of really neat stuff." Visually, it stimulates the mind.
Allgor has been proprietor at Shorty's for about three years, having worked her way up from being a waitress to become co-owner with her husband Randy.
Now she's pleased to see Cramer's creativity put to use to give the diner's back walls a necessary facelift, she says. It's an inspiring sight her customers enjoy as they eat Southern Maid doughnuts and short order grill favorites like omelettes, breakfast burritos and burgers.
"I came in and I painted the walls, and I wanted to go with kind of a farm, old country style," Allgor said.
In addition to him being a regular, she knows Cramer from church. At first, talking about a renovation, they discussed the bamboo on the back wall. Ideas sprang from there.
"Richard's done an amazing job at putting all kinds of memorabilia on the wall. He's done an awesome job," Allgor said.
She has reason to call it awesome: the response from her customers.
"I have all my old gentlemen that come in in the morning times and they sit around drinking their coffee, solving the world's problems, you know, just about everything. To hear them sit back there and go, 'Oh my God, I remember this from when I was a kid' it just brings a homey feeling. To watch these guys go back in time when they're looking at this stuff is amazing," Allgor said.
She started working at Shorty's in 2014, and eventually the ownership wanted to sell. Allgor didn't want the restaurant to be changed to "something it didn't need to be," she says. Shorty's has served its diners since 1956, she said. It's an iconic place for Texarkana diner food.
"I went to the bank and talked to the bank and here we are three years later, still kickin'," she said.
What's made Shorty's so beloved over the years?
"The atmosphere. Of course, it's the Southern Maid Donuts and to be able to walk in and the wait staff and my girls treat you like you're family," Allgor said. "When our customers come in here, we get to know them."
Rather than hustling folks out the door, waitresses know customers' names and know their usual orders. She loves watching them enjoy a coffee and share banter back and forth.
"It's home to these guys and that's what I strive to do, to make them comfortable and feel like home," Allgor said. They tell her they used to come to Shorty's with their grandparents. She wants to know how they're doing and how their family's doing.
"It's a family atmosphere. It's always been that way, ever since I started working here," Allgor said.
Cramer, who's also an airbrush artist, appreciates that atmosphere and how she's made it happen. He's happy to blend all these different mediums to create a unique collection of things for the Shorty's family to enjoy.
He simply sees things differently, he says, which he credits to his mother, who was a painter.
"Like my sister said, it's the way I'm wired," Cramer said. He wants people to get more than what they see on a plain, blank wall when they see this slice of Americana.
"When you look at a wall like these, I hope they get inspiration, insight and that they feel something about life," Cramer said.