The Mark Twain Dinette opened February 2nd, 1942. It's stood at the same location of Third and Hill and is still neighbors with the Mark Twain Boyhood Home. the original building was a 30 x 10 foot structure. The building was modern for the time and was made of white enamel steel and had red borders and green trim. There were two large picture frame windows and a centered front door. Above the building was a tower bearing the restaurant's name on a flag.
Inside you may have been greeted by the owner and founder M.E. Pennewell. Mr. Pennewell was well known throughout Hannibal as a business man and also owned a gas station across Third Street from the Dinette. The original Dinette was managed by Ethel Turner. This picture features Mr. Pennewell in the center and his gang from the gas station, Pennewell Oil Company. To the far right is the 2nd owner of the Dinette, Leroy Witthaus. Witthaus's cousin, John (Buford) Meyers is pictured between him and Pennewell. Elmer Crim is on the far left and Kenny Lawson is 2nd from the left.
The Dinette was quickly remodeled in its first few years of business. Steel awnings were added over the windows and an overhang with neon lighting was installed. The restaurant originally had one stainless steel counter with only 13 chrome-plated fixed stools trimmed in red vinyl to serve from. It featured a small kitchenette and a basement which offered more space for cooking and storage.
The original menu offered breakfast, sandwiches, french fries, and cold drinks. The Dinette has served loose ground beef sandwiches since the beginning, but officially became part of the Maid-Rite franchise in 1967.
Two lots were acquired to the rear of the building in the early 1960's for additional parking. With these lots they began a drive-in operation. In 1963, Leroy Witthaus, who had been employed by the Pennewells since 1950. began managing the restaurant.
The switchboard called the "electro-hop" was installed with the development of the drive-in operation. Red telephones were also featured at every table inside the restaurant and microphones were at the 24 drive-in stalls; the dining room seated 60. Customers would dial the kitchen from their table to place their order. An operator inside the kitchen would answer these calls from the switchboard.
By the 60s the Twainland Express had been added which was a tour trolley of Hannibal that operated out of the restaurant. In the beginning tickets for the train were purchased outside the dinette, where Pennewell sold them from a little yellow booth. At one time Dr. E.W. Harder was a partner in the Twainland Express, and eventually Witthaus became the sole owner. John Bogue sold the Twainland Express trains in 2010. The little trains are now taking people on tours in Ketchikan, Alaska.
In 1963 the Dinette acquired the Frostop root beer franchise and added its famous revolving mug which still stands today. More remodeling took place in 1965. The dining space was enlarged and the electrohop was installed. 1967 the famous Mark Twain Fried Chicken and catfish meals were added to the menu.
Another remodel occurred in 1969 to the building and the brick facing on the exterior was added. In 1972 it was expanded again to add more seating. Leroy Witthaus became the full owner in 1973. In 1979, Leroy Witthaus was named Restaurateur of the Year by the Missouri Restaurant Association.
In 1976, John Bogue began managing the Dinette. In 1982 Witthaus began leasing the restaurant to John Bogue and he became full owner in 1985. In February 1989, the final and largest expansion of the Mark Twain Dinette occurred and doubled the restaurant in size. A whole new dining room to seat more than 100 guests was added to the building. In 1993, a second Mark Twain Dinette was opened in Monroe City, but due to the historic flooding, business was slow and it wasn't open for long. Luckily, the flood walls in Hannibal saved the original site. In the early 2000's an outdoor pavilion was added for more outdoor seating.
In April 2015, John Bogue sold the Dinette to his eldest son Jody Bogue. Jody's first job at the dinette was mowing the lawn, when his dad was manager. He was about 12 years old. Then he worked as a carhop, cook and other various jobs throughout high school. He came back and was one of the night managers for four or five years in the mid-90s. It is currently managed by Jody and his daughter Kenna Bogue. They intend to preserve the long traditions of the Dinette and look forward to continue serving Hannibal locals and welcome guests for many years to come.