Yesterday’s Visit to the Miss Portland Diner

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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