Well, it is the middle of winter and I am feeling sort of lazy. But I also feel neglectful to my regular readers as well so I am forcing myself to get my rear end in gear and do a quick blog post on things that are happening. Subjects I will talk about include the planned resurrection of a diner that has not operated since the early 1970′s and been in storage for close to 27 years, news about 2 diners that are featured in my book “Classic Diners of Massachusetts”, an upcoming author event I instigated and a long-time local 5 & dime department store that is closing. Also a link to an interesting blog post about the closing of someone’s favorite diner, so, here we go…..
Former Monarch Diner gets a new lease on life
I heard from Retro Road gal Beth Lennon in November via Facebook. She asked if I was interested in getting together with her and her hubby Cliff Hillis on the weekend before Christmas. She had recently made the acquaintance of Roger Elkus and Daryl McGann, (Roger is the owner of Me & Ollie’s a small chain of Bakery/Cafe’s in the southeastern part of New Hampshire
and Daryl is his Production Manager see… http://www.meandollies.com/). They informed her of their plans for a 1950 vintage stainless steel O’Mahony diner they had acquired.
Cliff and Beth were driving up from Pheonixville, PA to visit with family in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for the holidays. Part of the itinerary included a stop at Kane’s Donuts in my hometown of Saugus on the way to a family gathering in New Hampshire. The plan was for Denise and I to meet Beth and Cliff at Kane’s and then motor up to Salisbury to meet up with Roger and Daryl at the the storage yard where the old diner they were buying has been located for a number of years.
So after a cup of coffee at Kane’s (where I introduced them to Peter Delios, whose family runs the donut shop) – as planned, it was off to Salisbury where we met Roger and Daryl. We were all surprised to find the gate to the storage yard closed, as it usually was opened. Luckily the chain that locked the 2 gates was loose enough that we could squeeze thru (a little tight for me but I made it). Roger brought a step ladder along to climb up into the diner.
During our visit to the diner in Salisbury, Roger showed us where the serial number for the diner was located. It was on the stainless steel molding for the front door frame directly under the bottom hinge.
An extreme close-up of the Serial number for the old Monarch Diner
from Dover, NH. According to Gary Thomas’ - “Diners of the North Shore” book, the other O’Mahony the DeCola’s bought for Waltham, Mass. was Serial number 2179-50. The number “50″ denotes the year it was built.
December 22, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera
P.S. That other 1950 vintage O’Mahony incidentally is currently operating as the Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, NH…… LAC
Now for a little back story on this diner…. it was originally one of a chain of diners owned and operated by the DeCola brothers of Waltham, Mass. (in some cases they leased the diners to other operators) Most of the diners they ran were called the Monarch Diner. The flagship was located in Waltham with other Monarch’s in Dover, NH and Milford, NH as well as Saugus, Mass. They had other diners they ran with names like the Littleton Diner of Littleton, Mass. as well as a diner called the Paradise Diner in Lowell, Mass. (not the current one, there were 2) and another diner in either Billerica or Chelmsford (I cannot recall which or even if it was a Monarch). The diner we were in Salisbury to look at was the former Dover, NH Monarch Diner which operated at 530 Central Ave. in that southeastern New Hampshire city.
According to Will Anderson’s “More Good Old Maine” book (1995 – Will Anderson Publishing), even though the diner was owned by the DeCola’s, it was more than likely leased by at least 3 different operators until December of 1968 when it was purchased by Edward & Phyllis Neal who moved the diner to North Berwick, Maine. The Neal’s intended to utilize the diner as a flower shop initially, but after the diner was installed at the new location, they ended up leasing the diner to Lois Griffin who ran it as Lois’ Diner. The diner reportedly closed in 1973 and sat vacant until 1986 before being moved to Phyllis Neal’s property in Sanford, Maine.
I actually knew of the diner back in March of 1989 when I visited a friend who lived in the Sanford area. He used to drive by the diner’s storage location twice a day. We got to his house and he said let’s take a ride, keeping the destination as a surprise. We came around a bend in the road and there was the diner sitting up on blocks!
Fast forward to the early 2000′s when Dave Pritchard of Salisbury convinced Phyllis Neal to sell the old diner. Dave had bought up 3 other old diners and stored them on his property in Salisbury. The other 3 were the Englewood Diner, Olympian Diner and Miss Newport Diner. Pritchard had no concrete plans for any of the diners until he eventually sold the Miss Newport (now reopened as the Miss Mendon Diner) and more recently the Englewood (which is reportedly in private hands).
Roger Elkus and Daryl McGann in the last year or so were discussing the possibility of obtaining an old diner to operate in conjunction (but separate) with the Me & Ollie’s Cafes. To make a long story short, they found their way to Salisbury and Dave Pritchard. They eventually convinced Pritchard to sell them the old Monarch and hopefully before this year is out, their plan is to relocate the diner and restore it and have it operating. I will post a more detailed story about this in the next few months.
Peabody, Massachusetts’ Little Depot Diner
under new ownership
One of the diners featured in my book “Classic Diners of Massachusetts” has recently changed hands. This was not unexpected news. Right around the same time my book was being printed (September, 2011), the Miles family – owners of the diner since 2008 abruptly closed the diner. But within a month they reopened it with only weekend hours basically keeping it a viable business while searching for a new owner to operate it. Well back in November I received an email from Peter Scanlon of North Easton, Mass. who informed me his son Ross and new daughter-in-law Alicia had taken over the reigns of the 1929 vintage Worcester Lunch Car.
The Miles family stayed with them to show them the ropes for a short time. After Ross and Alicia’s wedding and honeymoon around Thanksgiving the newlyweds reopened the diner, again testing the water with only weekend hours. After the first of the year, the diner is now open 6 days a week, Tuesday thru Friday: 7:00 am – 1:30 pm, Saturday & Sunday: 7:00 am – 1:00 pm. Denise and I have been there twice since they reopened and found the food to be good quality and the service very friendly! The diner is located at 1 Railroad Avenue, just behind the Courthouse in downtown Peabody.
Al Mac’s Diner of Fall River, Mass. set to reopen
Back in late July I posted the news that Al Mac’s Diner of Fall River closed abruptly. (see… http://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/news-flash-al-macs-diner-of-fall-river-mass-closes/). This was disturbing to me as this was again another featured diner in my book “Classic Diners of Massachusetts”. Well it now looks like the diner will reopen under new ownership around February 1, 2013. I saw the news back on December 11, 2012 from The Herald News out of Fall River.
Here is the story was written by Brian Fraga……..
Robert Dunse II remembers when he was a kid eating his first chocolate chip pancake at Al Mac’s Diner. “I sat down at the end of that counter top. My parents used to bring us here,” Dunse, 25, said Tuesday inside the historic diner at 135 President Ave., which will reopen next month. Dunse, his sister, Laura Reed, and their mother, Susan Dunse, all Fall River natives, recently leased the diner, which the previous owner, Norman Gauthier, closed in July, citing financial difficulties.
On Tuesday, construction workers were busy inside the diner, updating the interior and preparing the space for a series of additions that will include new vinyl booths, and possibly a jukebox. The building’s exterior, including the famous Al Mac’s sign, is also being refinished. There is even a new website — http://www.almacsdiner.net — in development. “I’m basically redoing the whole place. It’s getting a major, major facelift,” said Dunse, a 2008 graduate of Johnson & Wales University who previously worked for a catering company in Providence. Before that, Dunse said he worked as a personal chef for New England Patriots owner Robert Craft.
The family signed the lease for the diner in early November. Dunse said he moved home to Fall River in the summer when he saw the “For Lease” sign in Al Mac’s window. “I was moving all my stuff. I had a full carload full of furniture and everything,” Dunse said. “I saw the ‘For Lease’ sign. I called (his mother), asked, ‘What do you think?’ I got the information on it, made the phone call.” Susan Dunse, a former employee with the Fall River School Department, said the family had always talked about opening up a restaurant. She said Robert’s great grandfather and his brother owned the old Columbus Cafe in Fall River.
“Restaurants and food is kind of in the family,” she said. Robert Dunse said he expects to reopen Al Mac’s by early January. He said the menu will be updated with American, Italian, Polish and Southern comfort fare, among other family favorites. “We really want more of a classic diner feel, with the milk shakes, with the late night, with the crazy breakfast specials, the large portion sizes, the working-man lunch specials,” he said. “Everything is going to be fresh. We’re bringing good food to the city. My motto is four-star food at a one-star price.”
Dunse said his sous chef — the second in command — left his job in fine dining to come work at the new Al Mac’s. “Lot of talent here,” Dunse said. Al Mac’s has been part of Fall River’s landscape for more than a century. Its founder, Al McDermott, started the business in 1910 on a six-seat, horse-drawn wagon. The stainless steel diner on President Avenue was built in 1953. The diner was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
“We’re from Fall River. It’s Fall River people, bringing stuff back to Fall River,” said Susan Dunse, who remarked Tuesday that the interior still looks much as it did during the 1950s. “We’re bringing back the booths. People are very excited about the booths,” she said. Robert Dunse said he believes customers will return and keep the diner financially viable this time around.
“If you have good food, people will come,” he said. “If you provide a great environment where people feel comfortable and at home, and you develop personal relationships, people are going to come no matter what.”
Lord’s Department Store of Medfield, Mass. set to close
Back on January 4th, I got a message from Beth Lennon who was concerned about a local landmark…. Lord’s Department Store, a long-time fixture in the small town of Medfield, Massachusetts. She had heard that the store is set to close its doors at the end of February and was concerned about the great neon sign that was mounted on the building.I was somewhat familiar with it most like from Beth’s posts about it on her Retro Roadmap blog, see…. (http://www.retroroadmap.com/). So after I was aware of this news I did a little research and this is what I found out……
Started as a small “5 and 10 cent” store in 1940, the place was opened by Raymond Lord, a former employee of Kresge’s 5 and 10 cent stores out of New York City. The story goes that Mr. Lord had used some faulty marketing research that was done by the Kresge organization on likely towns that might support a 5 an 10 cent store. It seems Medfield had a population of around 4500 which seemed perfect. So Mr Lord left Kresge’s to open his own store in the seemingly bustling community of Medfield. He opened his store in an existing storefront down the street from the current store and was surprised to see that there was hardly any business for the first week.
He ended up talking with an employee of the local U.S. Post Office and asked the man where are all the people that are supposed to be living here? He told him that he had heard the population was around 4500 and the man said yes, that was possibly true, except for one thing, about 3000 of those people were locked up in the State Hospital! So much for marketing research circa 1940!
Well Mr. Lord stuck it out and pretty much from day one, he had the able help of William Kelly, a local lad who was an extremely hard worker. Mr. Kelly had the people skills and strong work ethic that appealed to Lord who eventually gave the young Kelly more and more responsibility. After Kelly returned from service during WWII, he was made the manager of the store.
In the early 1950′s Bill Kelly took over the day to day operations as a partner to Ray Lord. By the late 50′s the store moved to it’s current location and eventually Kelly bought the business. It has been run by Bill and more recently his son Tom and daughter Nancy Kelly-Lavin. Bill passed away this past May and Tom and Nancy by the end of the year decided that they would close the store and sell the property.
The store has become the heart and soul of the downtown area, everyone who lives in the vicinity has great memories of the store which had a little bit of everything. It was open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It featured a lunch counter/soda fountain and recently was operated as Ruthie’s Diner.
Denise and I took a ride down this past Sunday Jan. 13th and had a cup of coffee at the lunch counter. We also walked around the store and as we were leaving, we met Nancy Kelly-Lavin. We had a nice conversation with her as she related some stories to us. We wished her well and went on our way. The latest word is that there is a possibility the classic neon sign may be kept on the building by the new owner, giving the towns people a little piece of mind that their downtown might still have a bit of their local landmark for generations to come.
Eulogy for the Harvest Diner, by Michael R. Fisher
My friend Rich Wilhelm of Phoenixville, PA (a neighbor and friend of Beth Lennon and Cliff Hillis) sent me a link to a blog post his nephew Michael Fisher wrote lamenting the closong of his local diner. I read the piece and asked Michael permission to re-post it here……
After nineteen years in business, my diner is closing.
Like all residents of suburban South Jersey, I have (sadly, as of this coming Sunday, had) a go-to diner. And while many of my SoJerz brethren may have thought of the local diner as little more than a necessary stop on the way home from the bar on a woozy Saturday night, the Harvest has meant much more to me.
Whether playing its role as hangout, employer, home away from home or whathaveyou, the Harvest was always a welcoming, reliable beacon of 24-hour light thrusting upward from the middle of the disenchanted-and-we-like-it-that-way Jersey suburbs. See, I’m a city kid; the general artlessness of the ‘burbs, taken (not incorrectly) by its devoted residents as the signature of comfort and stability, has always turned me off in a Springsteenesque “it’s a death trap/it’s a suicide rap” kind of way, albeit less melodramatically. But the diner was always necessary. Its policy of being open all night encouraged coffee talk, which is still the highest form of human interaction, save perhaps tantric sex. Nobody in their twenties lives at home if things are going well for them, so the 24-hour diner became the haven of late-night plotting and dreaming and decompressing as we faced the future armed only with coffee and cigarettes and the nametags given us by our retail jobs. That is, until we lost those jobs and started working at the diner.
It sounds like that diner could have been any diner, and maybe it was after all just happenstance that made the Harvest our diner, but that doesn’t matter. It was ours, and it was special. It was owned by the Savvas, the nicest family of Cypriot-Americans you’d ever hope to meet; people who offered me work–twice–when the doors of the rest of the world slammed in my face; people who were never shy about helping their friends. I worked there off and on for three years, and while nobody’s saying that waiting tables is next to godliness, I can say that you’d be hard-pressed to find a better work environment, and that’s the rarest of compliments when it comes to Jersey diners.
(As a point of comparison, I once worked at another diner, which shall remain nameless. On my fourth day of employment, after being harassed from the first minute about keeping up with their post-Steinbrenner wardrobe and grooming requirements, I showed up for a shift with sideburns that reached about two-thirds of the way to my ear lobes. My manager instructed me to go home, trim the sideburns down to where they met my hairline, then come back to work and finish my shift. I went home, but I did not return, and I have not set foot in that diner since.)
With the closing of the Harvest Diner, the Chekhovian drama of our lives as confirmed (if reluctant) townies comes to a crashing climax. Our hangout spot is deserting us just as our precious youth is doing the same. It may seem overwrought, but the whole point of the Harvest, far beyond being a place to get breakfast at any hour, was to be the great, comforting constant in the lives of its beloved regulars. We all have stories in which the Harvest plays a key part; having been a fixture there for some ten years, I probably have more than most. Inside jokes were born there; strangers discovered mutual interests and became friends within its green-and-yellow booths. The Harvest was the trusty nightwatchman of our past, and as long as it stood, our past was safe and our youth preserved. Now that it is saying goodbye, we are shaken into an understanding of our mortality. If the Harvest and all of those wonderful times there can just vanish, so, then, can we.
As this is happening, I am twenty-six years old. I have a 9-to-5 job and student loan payments. I am looking at homes in other towns. I am preparing to leave my old neighborhood, and though wherever I go will not be far, the closing of the Harvest is a cold reminder that life is changing. Of course, not all moments of transition carry the kind of Last Picture Show gloom that I’ve been insinuating. I’m sure the changes in my life will spur growth, maturity, independence, responsibility–all those sacred middle-class values. One day I may even be able to behave like a proper adult. I will be fine, and my friends will be fine. But the Harvest, sadly, will not be there to go back to.
Good luck to my friends, the Savva family, and all those currently employed at Harvest. And thank you.
Here’s a link to the original blog post…. http://michaelroyfisher.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/euology-for-the-harvest-diner/
On a further note, I read in the last couple of days that the diner will close but eventually reopen in the spring with a new name and a new look by the owners of the Sage Diner of Mt. Laurel, NJ…. LAC
Author Event slated for Bestsellers Cafe in Medford, Mass.
January 27, 2013
I arranged an Author Event with Rob Dilman owner of the newly reopened Bestsellers Cafe in Medford, Mass. (the city I grew up in). I have gotten together a small group of local authors to participate. With the exception of myself all the other authors have published books about Medford either thru Arcadia Publishing (Images of America books) and/or from my publisher, The History Press. The other authors include Anthony Mitchell Sammarco, author of “Medford” (Arcadia) as well as countless other titles from the Greater Boston area. Barbara Kerr who authored “Medford in the Victorian Era” for Arcadia and “Glimpses of Medford” for The History Press. Dee Morris authored “Medford, A Brief History” for The History Press (among other local titles) and Patricia Saunders who wrote “Medford – Then & Now” for Arcadia.
We will all be signing copies of our books as well as speaking about them. The event will take place at Bestsellers cafe, 24 High Street, Medford, Mass. on Jan. 27th, Sunday afternoon, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Check out Bestsellers Cafe’s website for directions, etc…..