Portside Diner celebrates 50 years!

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The Portside Diner located in the Danversport section of Danvers, Mass. is celebrating 50 years in the town. The Portside is Worcester Lunch Car # 813 and was originally known as the Cape Ann Grill and was delivered to it’s first operating location at 214 Main Street in Gloucester on June 8, 1948. It replaced a smaller diner, WLC # 800 which had been delivered on the previous year. Apparently the original owners Augustus Mulrenin and Henry Schluter had done very well with the first diner and felt that they needed a larger one within a short time to handle the crowds!

According to reports, after the smaller diner was sold as a used diner to a customer in Westminster, Mass. the newer larger diner was brought in but unfortunately for the owners was not able to attract the patronage they hoped for. Within a few years this diner was bought by one Roland Michel who was able to turn things around. He ran the diner until 1959 when he moved his business to an even larger diner just up the street and sold this one. That is when it was moved to Danvers.

Tuesday, Steve Repucci clued me into the story that the Danvers Herald recently ran on April 15th about the diner’s 50th anniversary, here is the story written by Christine Marmen….

A golden year in Danvers

Danvers – Built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company and originally sent to Gloucester as the Cape Ann Grill, the historic car sitting on the corner of Liberty and River streets in Danvers arrived here 50 years ago as the Portside Diner.

For nearly 25 years the Andromidas family of Danvers has operated the diner seven days a week, serving award-winning fare and preserving the car’s roots.

James and Ekaterina (Kathy) Andromidas, both from the small Greek village of Geraka, moved to the United States, married, started a family and purchased the Portside Diner, where their customers have come to feel like family. The couple’s three children — John Andromidas, Nikki Gkiokas and Peggy Giannarakis — now grown and running the diner, have enjoyed serving the patrons they grew up with. Sandy Hicks, a waitress who has been with the diner for over 10 years, is also an important member of this close-knit group.

“The bus stop was here,” said John Andromidas on Monday morning, discussing the history of the diner and the family.

“We used to do our homework here,” said Gkiokas. “We remember our current customers from when we were kids. They’re like family,” she said, adding that her own two daughters and her sister’s son are now enjoying the frequent childhood visits to the diner that they once had.

With the window treatments, model boat, ship’s wheel, buoys and pictures, the nautical theme is evident. But, it is not the most prominent of the diner’s features. Boasting most of its original fixtures — including the refrigerator, booths, stools, marble countertop, tile floors and rich, polished woodwork throughout — the diner feels much like a time capsule. Wishing to preserve the original look, the family has been deliberate in their decisions about not making certain upgrades, said Andromidas.

The diner will debut new menus soon with a new look and new items, while still offering the same value and prices as before. The menu will also feature a brief history of the diner, written by Andromidas’ wife, Aspasia, herself a new fixture at the diner since her September 2008 wedding. “I guess my life is tied into this place,” said Aspasia Andromidas.

She didn’t come from this area, she said. It was actually a diner customer who believed the pair would be a good match and was responsible for their meeting. New to both the family and the diner, Aspasia Andromidas was struck by the atmosphere at the Portside. “It’s definitely a good business. They treat their customers on a personal level. People come in and share a lot about themselves. I noticed that right away,” she said. “There are always different faces, but you still know a lot by first name,” she added.

Visitors from all over the North Shore frequent the diner, with regulars for the most part during the week and many new faces on the weekend. “We like it. Seeing the people that keep coming back and meeting new people, it’s nice,” said Gkiokas. It is not uncommon to see families, friends and business gatherings, as well as folks coming in alone only to be greeted by familiar faces once inside.

This past Monday morning, Charles LeBlanc, a traveling New England salesman in town from Worcester for a meeting, found some spare time for a first-time visit to the diner for some scrambled eggs. Seated at the counter, LeBlanc introduced himself to Gkiokas and told her he likes to eat in diners whenever he travels because his grandfather, Charles P. Gemme, was the vice president of Worcester Lunch Car Corporation. LeBlanc’s father, Laurence H. LeBlanc, also started working at the company when he was very young and learned every aspect of the job. His specialty was stainless steel, and the grill hoods found in dining cars are representative of some of his handiwork. 

“When (the cars) were built, it was a turnkey operation,” said LeBlanc, who explained that the diners came fully equipped with everything, right down to the dishes and utensils. He also said that historically, cars were placed near a mill, whose workers would become regular customers. LeBlanc fondly recalled growing up eating off diner dishes.

When asked about their most popular fare, Gkiokas and her brother said that seafood, dinner specials and breakfast are always in demand. “Did they mention the Greek sausage?” asked a patron, offering her opinion while remaining anonymous. She and her husband frequent the diner when in town visiting family and are fans of the Greek sausage. Andromidas said he believes that it’s not just about the food; friendliness, quality and prices are also what keep people coming back, he said.

Portside regulars Sandy and Don Moss would agree. Since moving to Danvers four years ago, the term “regulars” for them has meant sometimes dining there two or three times a day. “We practically live here. We love it here. It’s relaxing and homey,” said Moss. “They’re like family here. That’s what it’s like,” she added. When asked about favorite menu items, the pair agreed that they like everything.

Andromidas plans to keep the Portside Diner in the family and continue the business for years to come. “I want my kids, when I have them, to grow up seeing what I did,” he said. He also wished to thank all the Portside Diner’s loyal customers and assure them that they are considered family.

As I’ve said in a previous post here, I will always have a soft spot for this diner as it is almost identical to the late lamented Star Lite Diner in my hometown of Medford, Mass. (WLC# 817) ….. LAC

 
The Portside Diner is located at 2 River St., Danvers, Mass.
Open: Monday – Saturday, 6 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Sunday, 6 a.m.-noon

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