Skip’s Restaurant of Chelmsford, Mass. to close after 60+ years

Skip’s Restaurant of Chelmsford, Massachusetts will close this summer. From what I can piece together, it was originally opened as Skip’s Diner possibly in 1930 and was bought by the Burliss and Gefteas families either in 1946 or 1947 (the postcard says 1947 while another report says 1946) and was originally housed in a built on-site diner type structure that eventually was re-built into the large brick-encased building housing the restaurant, function rooms and Embers Lounge. Skip’s since has become a local landmark featuring a fancy neon sign and noted for serving breakfast, lunch and dinners to quite a few generations of customers over the years.

Fred Gefteas, Jr. was quoted as saying if you told his late dad that you were paying between $7,000.00 and $9,000.00 a month for electricity, he would have said “close the place”! The families are selling out to a developer who has plans for a strip mall which will include a restaurant, coffee house and bank.

I personally have patronized this restaurant a couple of times over the years ( I’ll probably get there again before they close, hint: this Saturday possibly) and have found it pleasant, a real local hangout with it’s share of regular customers. Ironically, I used to work with Steve Gefteas, a cousin of Skip’s owners whose family runs the New Turnpike Cafe located on Route 138 in Canton, Mass. Steve told me that when his family bought the Turnpike Cafe in the early 50’s, there was a small diner attached to the building. Reportedly not in great shape, they had the diner torn down when they rebuilt the rest of the structure.

Foster Street Diner closes, future in question.

 

The Foster Street Diner in Peabody, Massachusetts closed for good yesterday, May 4, 2008. A Salem News article dated today has some great quotes from customers as well as the operators. Unfortunately, the article describes it as a railway car turned diner which is completely wrong and helps perpetuate the myth that diners were originally railroad cars.

This in fact is one of the older diners in the state (a circa 1927, Worcester Lunch Car), although alterred to a certain extent, there still are some original features including a ceramic tile floor, counter apron, porcellain covered stools with wooden tops and Monel metal hood over the backbar. The land the diner was on was sold to the InnLine Auto Body that is on the adjacent parcel.

Apparently the auto body needed the land to expand parking and the diner has to go. The diner (which previously was known as the Driftwood II Diner and when I first started going to it, the Red Rambler Diner) was operated by Peggy and Dan Davis for the last 18 years. The Davis’ reportedly are sad that they had to close the diner and leave all their regular customers in the lurch.

The auto body shop has tried selling the diner on Craigslist but as far as I know has been unsuccessfull. So unfortunately, the fate of this diner is certainly in doubt. Here is the text of the Salem News article…

 Sorry, we’re closed: Longtime Peabody diner serves its last breakfast

By Amanda McGregor
Staff writer
 

PEABODY — Chris Schulte savored every bite of his final “house omelette” oozing with cheese, kielbasa and caramelized onion — an unrivaled meal he has enjoyed at the Foster Street Diner three or four times a week for more than a decade.

The little diner locked its front door for the last time at noon yesterday, closing the chapter on generations of fresh home fries, griddle cakes, cups of coffee and sarcastic, affectionate banter.

“Honestly, I might die of starvation,” said Schulte, who owns Atlas Landscaping around the corner from the diner. “I’ve tried everywhere else, and no one can make an omelette like this. Ever.”

Peggy and Dan Davis of Lynn have run the diner the last 18 years. Dan cooked in the back yesterday morning while Peggy chatted with customers, served coffee, and braced to say goodbye to “their home” for the last two decades.

“It’s been great,” Peggy Davis said, “just the people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made.”

The 1927 railway-car-turned-diner, adorned with a weathered red awning, has been tucked on the edge of Foster Street near downtown Peabody since 1939, Peggy said. The autobody shop next door purchased the land from the diner’s landlord to pave it for a parking lot, said shop owner Brian Lightbown of Peabody.

“This is like my adopted family,” said patron Wendy Shauan of Peabody, who has eaten Sunday breakfast at the Foster Street Diner for the last nine years. If she doesn’t walk through the door at 11:20, the staff knows something is amiss. And Wendy is far from alone.

Bob Maguire — or “burnt-bacon Bob” as the staff calls him — is an 86-year-old Peabody resident who ate at the diner every morning. Ralph Countie’s been a customer since the 1950s, when employees of the old leather tanneries would line up outside in the morning to fill their thermoses with coffee.

“We come here every Sunday, unless we’re sick or away. We love the people, and we love the food,” said Lillian Peluso, 85, who, for health reasons, had to sacrifice the greasy breakfasts she loves for a less fatty option: oatmeal. “They make it just the way I like it, gooey and sticky,” she said over a small white bowl filled with oatmeal.

Customers packed the diner yesterday, which has just enough room for three booths, three two-person tables, and a lunch counter with stools. It used to be called the Driftwood.

“They always give me my food on a hot plate, the way I like it,” said Hollis Ball of Peabody, a daily customer at the diner for the last 15 years, “and I always come in right before they close just to (tick) them off,” he said with an impish smile.

 

Peggy Davis’ three sisters have also worked at the restaurant, mainly Ellen Robitaille, who knows every customer by name.

“If Dan or Ellen see a customer coming,” Peggy said, “the food is there by the time they sit down. That’s how well they know people — and how predictable (customers) are,” she said with a laugh.

Basically, everyone in the family has worked at the diner over the years.

“We’ve kept it just family here. Everybody’s related,” Peggy said. “I just think it’s simpler that way. And if we fight, we fight nice.”

“I started when I was 14,” said one of their sons, Danny Davis of Peabody, “helping my dad as the dishwasher.”

He and his brother Ryan were working at the diner with their parents yesterday.

In a testament to their devotion, customers have provided pages worth of their e-mail addresses to stay posted if the Davis family opens a new restaurant. Peggy said they’re crafting plans to buy a diner in Lynn, but it’s not finalized. In the meantime, she and her husband may get a brief vacation after nearly two decades of daily work. The diner was open every morning at 6 a.m., seven days a week, except Christmas Day.

“It’s a tough pace,” Peggy said. “It’s hard to keep up sometimes. We have customers who help us pour coffee all the time.”

Lightbown, who owns InnLine Autobody on Foster Street, said his business is cramped and needs a parking area. He bought the adjacent diner property in October.

“It’s unfortunate that’s what I have to do,” Lightbown said of shuttering the diner.

He’s been trying to give away the actual diner — if someone pays to have it moved — and posted ads on a pair of Web sites. There aren’t any takers yet.

“I thought for sure someone would want it,” he said. “It’s a 1927 Worcester line dining car. I tried everything that I know of.”

The Davis family typed up a list of memorable customers and moments on a two-sided printout that was on hand yesterday morning.

“As we close our doors on 05-04-08, we would like to thank each and every person who has been part of our lives,” it reads. “We just cherish the friendship, stories and love among all of us that we shared. … Until we meet again.”

New England Portrait to Feature “The History of New England Diners”

You are cordially invited to the

New England Portrait
Season Premiere Party
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
6 o’clock

Culinary Arts Museum
Johnson & Wales University
Harborside Campus
315 Harborside Boulevard
Providence, Rhode Island 02905

Please join host Mary Lou Palumbo for the sneak preview of

“The History of New England Diners”

Richard Gutman, director and curator of the Culinary Arts Museum
at Johnson & Wales University Harborside Campus, provides hist-
orical context, while owners and patrons of area diners add local
color and humor. The diners featured in the program include the
Miss Worcester in Worcester, MA; Shawmut Diner in New Bedford, MA;
The Hope Diner in Bristol, RI; Champ’s Diner in Woonsocket, RI; and
Bishop’s Diner in Newport, RI.
Broadcast music composer Jon Marable wrote the original theme song,
“Let’s Go Down to the Diner” for the program.

$25 per person
Refreshments
Music by WRIK Entertainment
RSVP by May 11, 2008
401-222-3636 ext. 203

All proceeds benefit Rhode Island PBS.
Please make checks payable to Rhode Island PBS Foundation.

New England Portrait
is a production of
WSBE Rhode Island PBS

Could this be the end for Little Tavern?

Dick Gutman sent along a link to an article that appeared a few days ago in the Baltimore Sun. It is about the last remnant of a once thriving Little Tavern chain of restaurants that were ubiquitous in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area. These Little Taverns were very similar to White Towers and White Castles serving 5 cent hamburgers. I got to photograph a couple circa 1990 on a diner trip down to the D.C. area.

Little Tavern, Laurel, MD (Larry Cultrera, 2/1990)
(across the street from the Tastee Diner)

Little Tavern, Bethesda, MD (Larry Cultrera, 2/1990)

Here is the Baltimore Sun article…

Serving up burgers, with a side of nostalgia

Last Little Tavern echoes its heyday

| Sun reporter

Late at night, when the liquor stores and factories on Holabird Avenue are quiet, light still shines from a little restaurant with green-and-white awnings.

Inside, as a handful of customers watch from high stools, a burly man molds balls of pink ground beef, arranges them in neat rows on a grill and sprinkles on a crown of finely chopped onions. Then he presses the hissing burgers flat with a spatula until white steam rises from the meat.

“This is how it’s always been done,” says Steven Rich, 50, wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of one thick-fingered hand. Off and on for 13 years, he has cooked burgers for the truckers, dancers, drunks and lonely travelers who turn up late at this Little Tavern restaurant in Southeast Baltimore.

Once, the pint-sized restaurants seemed ubiquitous in this area, plopped down in the middle of city blocks. In the 1950s, about 40 of the restaurants were open in the Baltimore-Washington area, selling tiny burgers in white paper sacks.
But one by one, the Little Taverns have shut their doors. Now, only this one remains – for the time being. The property on which the restaurant sits recently changed hands, and the owner says problems with his health may force him to close.

For now though, the last Little Tavern stays open around the clock. Cooks serve up fried eggs and hash browns, coffee or sweet tea in foam cups and the famous burgers, which fit easily into a child’s palm. Customers, many of whom remember the days when the burgers cost a dime, come to relive old memories as much as to satisfy a craving.

“Whenever we’re over here, we make it a point to stop by,” says Ed Adkins, 72, a retired financial adviser from Catonsville, clutching a sack of a dozen burgers to share with his wife. “The colors, the lighting, the name out front – it brings back pleasant memories.”

Even younger customers say that nostalgia draws them. “It’s historical,” says Jessica Johnson, 23, of Sparrows Point, as she picks up a bag of six on her way back to work at Provident Bank. “My parents used to take me here when I was little. And I just like the taste of the meat better.”
But one by one, the Little Taverns have shut their doors. Now, only this one remains – for the time being. The property on which the restaurant sits recently changed hands, and the owner says problems with his health may force him to close.

For now though, the last Little Tavern stays open around the clock. Cooks serve up fried eggs and hash browns, coffee or sweet tea in foam cups and the famous burgers, which fit easily into a child’s palm. Customers, many of whom remember the days when the burgers cost a dime, come to relive old memories as much as to satisfy a craving.

“Whenever we’re over here, we make it a point to stop by,” says Ed Adkins, 72, a retired financial adviser from Catonsville, clutching a sack of a dozen burgers to share with his wife. “The colors, the lighting, the name out front – it brings back pleasant memories.”

Even younger customers say that nostalgia draws them. “It’s historical,” says Jessica Johnson, 23, of Sparrows Point, as she picks up a bag of six on her way back to work at Provident Bank. “My parents used to take me here when I was little. And I just like the taste of the meat better.”
The burgers, served on rolls from H&S Bakery, with a pickle, mustard and ketchup, sell for 85 cents each – a little extra for lettuce, tomato or cheese.

The cooks who work the day shift, Carolyn Sprecher, 51, and Pamela Locklear, 37, say that they put food on the grill for regular customers as soon as their cars pull into the parking lot.

“The people are more friendly here,” says Locklear of Highlandtown, who has “Mike,” her late husband’s name, tattooed in Gothic letters on her neck. “Because it’s such a small place, you can’t help but talk to everybody.”

On warm spring days, the doors of the restaurant are left open and the scents of gasoline and faint something from the water blow through the seating area, which holds about two dozen diners. Nearly everything in the restaurant – the pendant lights, the tiled floor, the counter with its faint lace of graffiti – is green or white or silver.

Outside, one sign is smashed, a few jags of white plastic left. But a smaller sign proclaims the chain’s original motto: “Buy ’em by the bag.”

The first Little Tavern was founded in Louisville, Ky., in 1926 by entrepreneur Harry Duncan, but the chain soon flourished in this area. Baltimore’s first Little Tavern opened on Mount Royal Avenue in the summer of 1930. Soon the tidy, white restaurants with pine green-peaked roofs sprouted up in 10 other locations in the city, including Greenmount Avenue in Waverly, Belvedere Avenue in Park Heights and Conkling Street in Highlandtown. Others opened in Annapolis, Glen Burnie and Towson. A late-night scene at a Little Tavern is featured in Barry Levinson‘s Baltimore-based film, Diner.

Along with similar chains like White Castle, White Tower and White Coffee Pot, Little Taverns were designed to appeal to the country’s first wave of automobile tourists, says Richard J.S. Gutman, who has written several books about diners.

The restaurants were meant to appear “clean, inviting and futuristic” to travelers unaccustomed to driving and dining far from home, he says.

Competition from the fast-food chains drove many of the small burger joints out of business. The Little Tavern chain has been sold several times over the past three decades – and the number of restaurants has declined steadily.

A Fuddruckers subsidiary bought it in the 1980s but sold it after suffering major losses that it blamed on prior owners, according to newspaper reports. In the early 1990s, employees bought the remaining restaurants.

Many have become other businesses, such as Kennedy Fried Chicken on Greenmount Avenue. Others have been demolished. The exception is the Holabird Avenue restaurant.

The owner, Al Roy of Abingdon, has shut down the other three Little Taverns he bought and two he opened in Ocean City. He shut down the second-to-last restaurant, on Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, last fall.

“Everything boils down to I just didn’t have the strength” to keep the other restaurants going, says Roy, 63, adding that he has had eight heart operations in the past three years.

A former Marine, Roy sits ramrod straight on a stool at the counter as he pores over the restaurant’s books. He says that he is negotiating with the new owner of the property and should know in about two weeks whether the last Little Tavern, which dates to 1983, will stay open. He is considering turning over day-to-day operations. He says he would still like to see new locations open.

For James Stein, 69, who drives from West Baltimore to the Little Tavern late at night, the restaurant is a link to his past. “Some of us guys used to come here and talk about the old days all night,” says Stein, a retired sanitation worker. He orders breakfast – two eggs sunny side up, hash browns and toast with butter – from Rich, the night cook.

Rich pokes at the yolks with his spatula. “Can’t have them too runny,” he says.

A tall man who measures his words carefully, Rich says that he has seen many odd sights during his shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. There was the stripper who jumped on the counter and took off her clothes, the female bouncer who bashed a man’s head against the window for stealing a french fry and the numerous people, often drug addicts, who have robbed the place for the scant funds in the till. And, from behind the counter, he has watched sunrises brighten the sky over East Baltimore.

Stein, who often stops by here after a night dancing at the VFW hall or the Polish Home Club, pulls out a card with his picture that says, “I have been told that I am a superb dancer.” Like the big band music he loves, the Little Tavern reminds him of a bygone age. When he was growing up in Highlandtown, all the teenagers used to gather outside the restaurant to goof off and eat burgers.

As the men chat, the bright lights cast harsh shadows on their faces. They look frozen in time, much like the diners in the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks.

Stein points out that a band of neon lights that wrap around the ceiling has burned out.

“You should have seen it before,” he says. “It was beautiful when it was all lit up.”

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

Here is a link to photos that accompanied the article…
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/baltimore_city/bal-tavern-pg,0,7721075.photogallery