Yesterday’s Visit to the Miss Portland Diner


As I stated earlier in the week, Denise and I drove up to Portland, Maine yesterday to have breakfast at the newly reopened Miss Portland Diner. This diner, Worcester Lunch Car No. 818  is now in it’s third location having originally been installed and opened, February of 1949 on Forest Avenue just outside the downtown area by a couple of blocks. It was moved by the early 1960’s (I believe) around the corner to 49 Mariginal Way where it operated until March of 2004. Randy Chasse, the last person to operate the diner sold the property the diner was located on and decided to donate the building to the city, hoping to ensure that it would stay in the city it was named for.


For the last 4 years, the city had been trying to get someone to buy the diner (at a much discounted price) as well as the parcel of land they had set aside for it (also at a discounted price) a couple of blocks up Marginal Way from where it had been. The city had gotten at least 2 other people to do the deal with but both fell through for various reasons leaving the city back at square one.


Meanwhile Tom Manning, a Portland native living in New Jersey and working as director of administration for Newsweek in Manhatten had been following the saga of the  Miss Portland through the Portland Press Herald online edition. When he read of the latest deal falling through, he got the brilliant idea to buy the diner and resurrect it.


Manning managed to jump through all the hoops, dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s” as well as cutting through any red tape he encountered to get the diner moved to it’s new operating site where I saw the progress first hand back in April. He opened the diner on October 31st to patrons who have been waiting for their beloved diner to come back. By all accounts it has been a successful reopening and rebirth.


I had grown up with the Miss Portland’s sister diner, the Star Lite Diner of Medford. The Star Lite being Worcester Lunch Car No. 817 was in the factory at the same time as the Miss Portland. I too had been following the progress of the Miss Portland and after the reopening late last month I was starting to think about when I would go and see how the old place looked. You see I was there on the last day it was opened at the old location and was delighted to be introduced by Randy Chasse to one of the original owners, Jimmy Crowder. Jimmy and I sat and talked for a few minutes on that day. Within the last couple of years I had seen that Jimmy had passed away, so I am glad I got to meet him.


Within the last couple of weeks, I decided to complete the circle and get to the Miss Portland on the 28th anniversary weekend of when I photographed the first of over 800 diners. Yes, Thanksgiving weekend of 1980 I was down in Harrisburg, PA to visit my buddy Steve Repucci who had moved there two and a half months before. We went out to breakfast at the Bypass Diner on Herr Street (the Rte. 22 bypass) and I took my first tenative shot of a diner after eating.


Anyway, as soon as Denise and I walked into the Miss Portland, I saw the new owner, Tom Manning standing by the cashier’s stand. I went over and introduced myself and Denise and he was very gracious. He showed us to a booth in the diner and we talked briefly. I told him that I thought he did a wonderful job in getting the diner back open and how I appreciated his work in recreating new Worcester-style benches and tables for the booths in the dining room, matching the originals in the diner, only larger. I also said the light fixtures on the outside of the diner looked great. Even though they were not exactly like the old ones, they were fantastic replacements that mimicked and updated the look.


We had a great breakfast and all in all, it was worth the trip. We wish Tom well in his new endeavor and hope to get up there again whenever we are in the area.


Notes from the Hotline, 11/25/08

Salem Diner has small fire

Things have been a little quiet but I will mention that last week it was reported that the Salem Diner (Salem, Mass.) had a small mishap that was appeared in the Salem Evening News. Apparently some workmen were removing the porcellain panels on the streamlined end of the diner to install much needed insulation. While they were doing this they were using some sort of power tool to remove screws. In the process the tool created some sparks which ignited a small fire in the wooden framework of the diner. The fire department was called and knocked the fire right down. The diner was closed for the rest of the day but reopened the next morning.

Denise and I went there for breakfast on Saturday morning and there was no evidence that anything ever happened. Our regular waitress Janey said that she was there the day after the fire and there wasn’t even any smokey type smell one would think would linger. She did mention that the streamlined end commonly referred to as Pesky’s Corner (for Johnny Pesky of the Boston Red Sox, a regular customer) is now much warmer due to the added insulation.


Dave Waller updates fate of Chelmsford, Massachusetts’ Skip’s Restaurant

If you don’t check the comments section at the bottom of the page here, you may have missed that Dave Waller left a comment. Basically, he gave me an update of the fate of Skip’s Restaurant in Chelmsford, Mass. Skip’s, a longtime local favorite started out as a regular diner that expanded over the years. Housed in a large brick building along with it’s companion Embers Lounge, it featured some great food and atmosphere as well as some well maintained neon signage. When it was announced earlier this year that the restaurant would be closing, some of us wondered what would happen to the great old signs when the building was demolished. Here is Dave’s update repeated from the comments….

They will be bulldozing Skips next week, but at least the neon signs will be saved. “The Embers” will be displayed in the Johnson & Wales Culinary Museum in Providence, and the rest will be restored and go into my neon sign collection where, hopefully, I can exhibit them in a future show.


Reports from the Miss Portland Diner

I have gotten reports in the comments section at the bottom of the page from different people about the newly reopened Miss Portland Diner. All of them rave about the food and the service. Bob Higgins reports that the added-on dining room compliments the diner, in fact it looks like they got someone to replicate the benches like the ones in the diner and made a bunch for the dining room. The one drawback that Bob mentions is that you normally cannot just seat yourself. The hostess seats you according to the next available spot which may or maynot be in the diner. As far as I’m concerned, a small diner (even with a dining room attached here in New England should allow you to sit where you want. Anyway, I am going to find out for myself when Denise and I go there on Friday morning to check it out. I’ll let you know what I think this weekend!

Providence, RI diner may be moving to Minnesota


The Sandwich Factory, both photos circa 1981 by Larry Cultrera


A former Providence, RI diner may be on it’s way to a new home in Minnesota. Originally known as Poirier’s Diner and later operating under names such as El Faro, Arnold’s Diner, the Top Hat Diner and when I first photographed it sometime between November 29, 1980 and the start of my Diner log July 28, 1981 it was called The Sandwich Factory. This diner according to reports is a 1946 Kullman Diner and was located at 581 Atwells Avenue in Providence (it’s only operating location) prior to being moved into storage a number of years ago and restored. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A news story that showed up yesterday on the Prior Lake American website had  some info on the upcoming move to Prior Lake Minnesota.

Update: Council likes downtown dining car idea

By Lori Carlson, Editor

Lyaman McPherson likes “old stuff,” and he’s hoping to bring some of the past back to Prior Lake. On Monday, McPherson presented his plan to operate a 1940s-era railroad car diner in the downtown area. “This is about as old as it gets,” he said. McPherson is hoping to purchase and restore a 1947 diner built by the Kullman family, which built diners way back when. The diner would “working-class food” for breakfast and lunch, McPherson said. “I’d like place I can go in the morning and get my eggs, hash browns and toast. You can’t get that now in Prior Lake,” he told council members, who liked the idea. I’ve never seen a small town that didn’t have a greasy spoon.”

Council members said their only hesitation is McPherson’s preferred location for the diner, the lot where Joe’s Pizza used to stand at Main Avenue and Pleasant Street. The city, which owns the property, demolished the building along with Minnesota Nails last month. McPherson said he would be interested in leasing the property from the city. “We just voted to use transit funds to pave that lot [for use as a temporary parking lot],” Councilman Warren Erickson said. “I’m not so sure this could be considered a transit project.”

The project would not require financial help from the city, McPherson said. “I’m not asking for TIF or other help,” he said. “There would be minimal parking space required, with a potential parking lease from existing businesses.” McPherson, a past Prior Lake VFW post commander, said he’s heard “very positive response” from the VFW about the dining car, even though the car might operate right next to the VFW. He said he doesn’t see the VFW – or O’Malley’s bar, which recently started serving breakfast – as competition, and he would not seek a liquor license.

“I’ve found most people don’t want to go to the bar for breakfast,” he said. Council members said they’re concerned about having to move the diner when downtown is redeveloped, and they suggested other privately owned downtown properties as possible locations. “It could be moved, but to be honest, if someone comes in to develop downtown, I’d be interested in talking to them to see if we could be a part of it,” McPherson said.

He added that downtown has limited property available. One property he considered is on a swamp and likely wouldn’t work, he said.“It doesn’t quite fit our design guidelines, but it fits our design spirit,” Councilman Ken Hedberg said. The car would seat about 50 patrons at counter and booth seating and would be accessible for disabled patrons, McPherson said.

Though he’s owned businesses in the past, McPherson has never owned a restaurant. He said he plans to hire a restaurant manager to operate the dining car. He’s hoping to get a dining car ready to open by springtime. Dining cars can cost between $10,000 and $100,000, depending on the condition, not including any costs for renovation, McPherson said. The car he’s looking at purchasing is currently in Providence, R.I. and is listed on the National Historic Register.

Lori Carlson can be reached at (952) 345-6378 or

Notes from the Hotline, 11-15-08

Photos of former Big Dig Diner in new location

Exterior view of the former Big Dig Diner now operating
as Nancy’s Diner In Grafton, Ohio

I’ve heard from Steve Harwin of Diversified Diners this week. Steve is a busy man and he was answering an email I sent 2 or 3 months ago. No problem, I was happy to hear from him! He sent along 2 photos of the former Big Dig Diner that had been located for a number of years in Boston. It was a 1940’s Silk City Diner that had  at least 2 other lives and operating locations.

It had been at one time the Exton Diner in Exton, PA before it was moved to a location on U.S. Rte. 22, east of Harrisburg, PA in a little town called Ono, PA. It operated under the name of Fern’s Diner and later when I first saw it as the Windmill Diner. It was closed there by the late 1980’s and in the early 1990’s Gordon Tindall managed to buy the home-made vestibule that was attached to the diner. He dismantled it and rebuilt it to attach to the Clarksville Diner, another Silk City he was restoring in Decorah, Iowa.

By the mid-90’s Steve Harwin acquirred the old Windmill Diner and moved it to Cleveland where he restored the diner and sold it to the non-profit entity that used the diner in conjuction with the Log School to be a training facility called the Big Dig Diner and operated it on city owned land at Drydock Ave. in South Boston.

After a few years the diner closed and stood vacant until the city wanted to reuse the property. The city of course wanted the diner moved or demolished. In stepped Steve Harwin who came and got the diner. He moved it back to Cleveland and brought it back again to working condition. he sold the diner recently and it is now operating in Grafton, Ohio as Nancy’s Diner.

Interior view of the former Big Dig Diner now operating
as Nancy’s Diner In Grafton, Ohio

The former Moe’s Diner of Durham, Connecticut has new life as Dan’s Diner

Dan’s Diner of Spencertown, NY

I got an email from Mike Engle last weekend saying he was taking Glenn Wells on a “surprise” diner excursion. He did not let on which diner he was taking Glenn to but I found out on Monday when Glenn posted a small account of the trip on Roadsidefans Yahoo Group message board on Monday. They apparently went to the newly reopened Dan’s Diner, a 1925 vintage Jerry O’Mahony Diner lovingly restored by Dan Rundell of Spencertown, NY.

I knew that the diner was fairly close to opening back in the late summer. John Baeder sent some photos shot by his good friend Bill Tomson who also hails from Spencertown. I met Dan Rundell a few years ago by chance when he was in Medford, Mass. for an auction that included parts from the former Vree’s Diner of Saugus, Mass. I told him I had heard of him and I had been following the saga of his exploits from afar for a number of years since he bought the old barrel-roof diner and moved it from Durham, Conn. where it used to operate as Moe’s Diner.

Rundell spent a long time working on the diner and from all accounts, it looks as good as it did when it came out of the O’Mahony factory back in the 1920’s. Mike Engle even said the result of the restoration rivals the 3 diners that Gordon Tindall has worked on. Hopefully I might take a trip out to eastern New York state and check it out myself sometime in the near future.

Dan’s Diner of Spencertown, NY

Notes from the Hotline, 11-9-08

Norm’s Diner in Groton, CT reportedly closed.

Norm’s Diner from the early 1980’s, copyright Larry Cultrera had a report dated Thursday, the 6th of November about the closing of Norm’s Diner. This 1950’s vintage Silk City Diner  has been continuously operated since it was brand-new. It has been owned for most of those years by Norm Brochu who actually retired a few years ago and sold the business to Dan Logan (Brochu still owns the building and property). Anyway, here is the text of report on the diner’s closing….

Landmark diner serves its last supper … for now

Norm’s in Groton closes for now, but maybe not for good

By Katie Warchut    Published on 11/6/2008

Groton – Dan “Dano” Logan, who took over Norm’s Diner four years ago, closed the longtime icon at the entrance to the City of Groton this week, blaming the poor economy. The diner’s former owners, Norm (the diner’s namesake) and Annie Brochu, however, are in a dispute with Logan over the rent for the building they still own and say the diner will reopen “under new management.” Annie Brochu declined to say when that would happen or who would run it.

The diner started out as Paula’s in 1953, and – since Norm fixed it up more than 40 years ago – it has become a stop for diner enthusiasts from around the country as well as locals. Serving home-cooked New England food, it survived competition from other local diners and chain restaurants along with the ups and downs of Navy-related business through the years.

Annie Brochu’s sister, Rose Phelps, who worked at the diner for many years, said it was sad that a historic place had to close. The former country music bar in the same building has long been closed, the building for sale with no takers. Norm Brochu said last year after his retirement that he had rejected past offers to move the dining car. Logan said he estimates business was down about 25 percent, mainly at dinner time. When the lease came up, he decided not to renew it.

Logan, meanwhile, said he felt bad about leaving his six diner employees jobless, so he hired them at the other restaurant he and his wife run, Dano’s Pizzeria & Lounge on Poquonnock Road, and started serving breakfast there. He also sells grinders out of a truck at Electric Boat. Logan put up signs in the metal Bridge Street diner directing customers to Dano’s and is even offering the Norm’s menu there.

Now, he said, he will concentrate on Dano’s, which he said is doing well, especially in pizza delivery to the sub base and in alcohol sales. ”The worse the economy gets, the better (alcohol) business gets,” Logan said. “We are just rocking up there.”

Norm’s Diner from the early 1980’s, copyright Larry Cultrera

Diner Hotline recommends “Diners of New York”

I just received my copy of Mike Engle and Mario Monti’s Diners of New York and I have read over half of it already. Published by Stackpole Books this is the latest in their series of regional Diner  directories/histories and I highly recommend that anyone who already has Brian Butko’s Diners of Pennsylvania and Randy garbin’s Diners of New England pick this one up.

Roadside Magazine calls it quits!

Who knew back when Randy Garbin published the above issue of Roadside (Issue Number 35, May – 2007) with the headline about Phil De Raffele as the old-line diner industry’s sole survivor that it also would be the final issue (in print media) for Garbin’s almost 20 year labor of love. Back in 1990 when the first issue of Roadside first came out, I was fairly surprised because I had not heard of Randy’s efforts to start the first ever professionally designed and self-published tabloid style newsletter from a fan’s perspective on the venerable American Diner.

I came across a pile of this first edition of Roadside at the cashier’s stand of Henry’s Diner, Worcester Lunch Car # 841 in the Allston section of Boston. Being that it was only 4 pages I read it over fairly quickly. I went home and called Dick Gutman as I recall and said have you ever heard of this? He replied that he had. Randy had been in touch with him and consulted on some historical points. I found one or two small errors being the stickler for accuracy that I am and decided to contact Mr. Garbin and introduce myself. I myself had been documenting diners for 10 years and had already started writing Diner Hotline over a year and a half prior to that point.

After contacting Randy we made arrangements to meet shortly after and have been friends and colleagues ever since. Trading info and other news and even going on the occasional “Diner Hunt”. In fact I even contributed a “Diner Hunting” column for Roadside Volume 1, No. 4. about finding the Abandoned Luncheonette (from Daryl Hall & John Oates 1973 Album cover). Being self published as Roadside has been for most of its existence has allowed Randy some freedom but I’m sure it was never much of a money-making enterprise. In fact he managed to sell the magazine to Ball Publishing a number of years ago only to see one issue ever come out of that deal.

After Randy and Ball Publishing severred their relationship, He went on to start “By the Way” magazine to take up where Roadside ended. After a year or so of no published Roadside issues by Ball, Randy decided he had a legal right to resume publishing under the Roadside banner once again and laid to rest “By the Way”.

Since then the magazine, which reverted to a tabloid came out sparodically over the next few years. His Roadside Online website was updated more often and was read by many people including myself. I want to personally thank Randy for all his years of being one of the most public faces of Diner enthusiasts across the country and sometimes being that “cry in the dark” on different issues that have come up.

Here is Randy’s “November, 2008 Napkin Notes” about the end of Roadside…..

The Road Ends Here

Eighteen years ago last month, the first issue of Roadside hit the countertops. Thirty-five issues later (and eight more of By the Way magazine), I regret to have to tell you that the trip finally comes to an end. I have put an enormous amount of thought and consideration into this decision. Roadside existed not simply as a vocation and lifestyle, for nearly two decades, Roadside became my very identity. A future without it seemed unthinkable. And yet, here I am.

About a year ago, I embarked on a concerted effort to drum up proper backing for a serious media publishing enterprise that once and for all set Roadside on a solid business foundation with resources akin to what we had during the Ball Publishing year of 2000. After a great deal of consultation with friends, associates, and industry professionals, I set a goal to raise $300,000 in start-up capital. To help sell the concept to potential investors, I cited Roadside’s extraordinary performance during the Ball period in which we had attracted almost 20,000 new subscribers. For whatever reason — the shaky economic climate, general reticence to invest in a media property, or a too-narrow network of contacts — the effort came up short.

More than one person has encouraged me to at least continue with the website and with Napkin Notes, but I am going to be perfectly honest with you: Recent events in the past few months unrelated to the spate of bad economic news have forced my hand. Like anyone else making a foray into small business, I began this enterprise with great passion and energy, convinced of its value to the market. I hoped — and expected — to meet and do business with kindred spirits who shared my vision and saw mutual benefits to a professional relationship. Despite all my efforts, I simply could not find a like-minded, committed partner with the necessary integrity and business savvy to help me grow this enterprise.

No one can predict what the future will hold for all this. I’m completely open to reasonable suggestions and possible leads for funds. I still plan to relaunch the Diner Finder as a more interactive feature that allows more direct contributions from the readers. Consider it a token of appreciation for those who have supported this effort. Who knows what it might grow into? I have already shut down Diner for Sale and the Roadside Forum to avoid having to moderate and maintain these sites. I also indefinitely suspended RoadsideOnline’s blog (one of the internet’s first) and the print magazine. For the time being, all existing editorial content will remain online.

I remain forever grateful to those who have supported this effort, even in the smallest of ways. I will always consider as dear friends the hundreds of diner operators and thousands of subscribers who saw Roadside as their voice as well and a catalyst for community building. For this eighteen-year-long ride, that has always been its greatest reward. You may still see me at the local diner wherever you live, and if you do, please stop by and chat about the American roadside. It may no longer have a publication truly worthy of the topic, but it will always count me as its most fervent advocate.

Randy Garbin

Notes from the Hotline, 11/1/08

Miss Portland Diner reopens

Miss Portland Diner, Last day of business at old location
Photo by Larry Cultrera, Copyright, March, 2004

Miss Portland Diner being worked on at new location
Photo by Larry Cultrera, Copyright, April, 2008

I read online reports thru my “Google News Alert” (with heads-up from Glenn Wells and Ted Boardman) that the Miss Portland Diner, Worcester Lunch Car #818 finally ropened at it’s new location after 4 and a half years in limbo. Back in March of 2004 Randy Chasse, the diner’s last owner/operator closed the doors of the diner and donated it to the city of Portland. Since then a couple of interested buyers had come close to meeting the city’s bidding requirements but were for one reason or another unsuccessful in bringing their plans to fruition. Enter Mr. Tom Manning, a native of Portland currently living out of state. Mr. Manning was able to buy the diner from the city earlier this year and has successfully reopened the diner at 138 Marginal Way which is across the street and about 2 blocks away from it’s old location.

Here is the Online (October 31st) announcement written by Kelley Bouchard of the Portland Press Herald…

Miss Portland Diner opened today

PORTLAND — The renovated and expanded Miss Portland Diner opened today on Marginal Way after more than four years of planning by city officials and others. “We did an unannounced opening because I didn’t want staff to be overrun, and we were very, very busy,” said owner Thomas Manning, a Portland native who bought the diner from the city earlier this year.

Manning said the landmark eatery at 138 Marginal Way will be open for breakfast and lunch for about a month, then expand to dinner hours with a grand opening in December. The 46-seat Worcester Lunch Car was moved from another location on Marginal Way to make way for a new office building. The diner has a new addition that includes a modern kitchen and a 48-seat dining room.

The City Council agreed in August 2006 to sell the 59-year-old diner and a 6,000-square-foot bus shelter site to Manning for $25,000 and $75,000, respectively. The diner is located next to a new student housing complex and health care office building. It stands beside Interstate 295, between the Forest Avenue and Franklin Arterial exits.

The diner’s former owner, Randall Chasse, gave it to the city in March 2004 after trying to sell it several times, including on the Internet. Before Manning expressed an interest in the diner, deals with two other prospective buyers fell through.


Stackpole Books publishes Diners of New York

It’s finally here! The latest installment of “Diner” guide/history book published by Stackpole Books of Mechanicsburg, PA. Entitled “Diners of New York” it is co-written by Mike Engle (of and Mario Monti. This has been a few years in the works and joins Randy Garbin’s “Diners of New England” and Brian Butko’s landmark inaugural “Diners of Pennsylvania”.

In fact Stackpole Books Editor Kyle Weaver contacted me a few years ago about the possiblity of me writing this book. I told him I was flattered but there were 2 reasons I could not do it, (1) in my opinion, Brian Butko raised the bar very high with his book and (2) being that I lived in Massachusetts and not New York, it would not be financially feasable to do the kind of research neccasary to even do half the book that Brian did.

I suggested Mike Engle whom I was acquainted with and knew that he had already started on a personal quest to document currently existing diners as well as others that may have been historically operated over the years in the Empire State. So the publishers went with a co-authorship of Mike along with Mario Monti. Mario is a retired school teacher and diner enthusiast who has also put out an e-book guide to diners.

I am looking forward to receiving my copy of the book and seeing what they came up with! I know they did use some photos from my personal archive and I am curious as to which ones made the cut.