Posted by: dinerhotline | May 19, 2010

Changes happening at Gilley’s PM Lunch


Photo of Gilley’s PM Lunch by Larry Cultrera

Seacoastonline.com had a piece on the proposed expansion of Gilley’s PM Lunch of Portsmouth, NH. Gilley’s is the last operating Lunch Wagon built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, (WLC #744) and was originally built-in 1939 for Al Mac of Fall River, Mass. who operated it as the White House Cafe.

Al Mac sold the diner in 1941 to William Kennedy of Portsmouth, NH. The Worcester replaced a very old (and rare) Closson Lunch Wagon (built in upstate New York). It operated for many years as Kennedy’s Lunch Wagon before being renamed for Ralph “Gilley” Gilbert who was the long-time night shift man at the old Lunch Wagon.

A few years ago the diner was modified with the addition of a utility trailer that was accessed by a new door cut into the wall where the former “take-out” window was located. This became much-needed kitchen and storage space. According to the Seacoastonline.com piece, now that the diner is more of a permanent fixture, it does not meet code and licensing guidelines.

Here is the text of the story by Charles McMahon…

Gilley’s eatery plans an update

Health department requires changes

PORTSMOUTH — Gilley’s PM Lunch, the iconic downtown diner/late night burger joint, is slated for a face-lift. According to plans on file with the city, the popular eatery owned by Steven and Gina Kennedy is scheduled to go before the city’s Planning Board on Thursday.

Listed under Robert and Pearl Revocable Trust, the application is for site plan approval to construct a one-story, 365-square-foot addition to the existing structure at 175 Fleet St. Steven Kennedy said Monday he was unable to comment about the application, but paperwork on file with the city’s Planning Department indicates the scheduled construction involves a variety of kitchen improvements mandated by the city’s Health Department.

City health officer Kim McNamara said her department made the request for improvements based on a complaint from a concerned patron. McNamara said the complaint was not related to food handling and was not a “negative” one, but drew attention to a problem with the existing facility. Calling the owners “very cooperative,” McNamara said the problem involved the fact that the business was originally licensed as a mobile unit, which she said involves different requirements than a full-time restaurant facility.

An inspection of the business found clean working conditions, McNamara said. It also revealed the facility was far out of code regarding its refrigeration equipment and the fact it did not have an employee bathroom. McNamara said the business needed “significant upgrades” involving the installation of new commercial refrigeration equipment of adequate size.

Given the small footprint at Gilley’s, McNamara said the business did not have enough room for the new equipment as well as an employee bathroom. McNamara said the city conducts a license renewal on July 1 annually. Gilley’s would not have been re-licensed without proper plans to address the deficiencies, she said. “We very much don’t want to harm Gilley’s business in any way,” she said.

Plans on file with the city indicate the project will involve a 22-by-26-foot expansion to accommodate the inclusion of a new cooking area, an employee bathroom that is handicap accessible, an office and a grease trap. The cost of the project is estimated to be around $60,000 and will involve no increase in seating capacity. The project already has gained approval from the city’s Historic District Commission and Technical Advisory Committee. The TAC voted unanimously to approve the application on May 4, but included three stipulations:

  • Removal of a truck body that rests behind the business. The truck body is part of the original truck that towed the diner when it was a mobile hot dog cart.
  • The addition of an automated grease trap removal unit in the kitchen area, rather than an underground tank.
  • A construction management plan must be prepared and approved by the city prior to a building permit being issued.

 The business was established in 1912. According to Gilley’s Web site (www.gilleyspmlunch.com), the lunch cart was built in 1940 by the Worcester Diner Co. of Worcester, Mass. It’s named after longtime employee Ralph “Gilley” Gilbert, who died in 1986. In its early years, the diner was hauled into Market Square each evening and parked in front of the North Church in preparation for the evening’s business. The diner was originally towed by horse, then tractor and finally by the truck currently on the property. Gilley’s was moved to its present location in June 1974, and its last-known improvement was a wing added to the cart in May 1996.

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Responses

  1. I can find no reference to President’s visiting Gilley’s, but I recall Gilley mentioning that FDR & Truman had visited. He said that one of them had been there more than once. It was a media target for the Primaries.


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