Notes from the Hotline, 11-9-08

Norm’s Diner in Groton, CT reportedly closed.

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

TheDay.com 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 TheDay.com 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.”

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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!

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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