Notes from the Hotline, 5-8-2009

Connecticut’s Milford Diner may soon face the wrecking ball

MilfordCT
Milford Diner, photo copyright May, 1983 by Larry Cultrera
A late 1950’s vintage Silk City Diner with a DeRaffele vestibule at the entrance and an older barrel-roofed structure on the left side.

I first wrote about the Milford Diner of Milford, CT in the print version of Diner Hotline almost 6 years ago. It was in the Spring 2003 Issue of the SCA Journal, (apparently it was running late that year). In that earlier piece I mentioned how the diner was slated to close on August 15, 2003 when the Memaj family, longtime owners of the business were set to retire. They decided that with the rising cost of leasing the property coupled with increased competition from other area restaurants, they would just close the business and sell the building.

A group of local fans of the diner circulated a petition to hopefully keep the diner in place and even the Milford Preservation Trust declared it a significant historic structure. In fact the developers of the property had no plans to kick the diner out and that it could stay indefinitely. Along came customer John Lombard who made the decision to buy the diner and move it to a nearby stripmall he owned and get the diner back  open with the Memaj family running it. At least that was the plan, but alas it did not come to fruition. The diner has stayed vacant since it closed.

A May 5th, 2009 article in the Connecticut Post (ConnPost.com) by Frank Juliano updated the story with what looks like an ominous outlook.
Here is the text from that article….

Milford Diner to make way for parking

MILFORD — A demolition permit issued for the Milford Diner downtown is getting mixed reviews. The prefabricated, stainless steel building and its wooden annex have been vacant for more than five years, and several attempts to develop it have fallen through. Now it looks as if the iconic 1948 building will be giving way to badly needed parking, officials said.

“Obviously whoever owns it has the right to do whatever he wants with it,” said Robert Gregory, the city’s economic development director. “I think there is more sentimental value than actual value in it, and the different ideas for it haven’t happened. That’s where we’re at.” The land at 13-21 New Haven Ave., which has the diner, Vincent Jewelers and the SBC Restaurant on it, is owned by Paul Dumraese, of Milford, and is assessed for $893,000, 70 percent of the market value.

Dumraese said Tuesday that while his family has owned the site since the 1920s, several businesses have leased the land and owned the buildings on it. “We don’t own the diner, but a lot of people think that we do.” Developer Robert Smith, who with his partner owned the diner building and the fieldstone structure that houses SBC, said that his company sold the diner to the SBC Restaurant Group.

SBC owner William DaSilva did not return phone messages left for him at the restaurant’s Milford and Hamden locations on Tuesday, but downtown merchants speculated that the site would be used to expand the restaurant’s parking lot. From Thursday through Saturday, a valet parks cars for the popular restaurant, fitting them into the lot between SBC and the diner.

“It isn’t 75 years old, so that’s why I wasn’t notified,” City Historian Richard Platt said. A city ordinance requires that Platt be notified before a historic structure can be demolished. The Board of Aldermen is considering changes that would reduce that time period to 50 years and allow any interested party to sign up for notification. The city historian said the Milford Trust for Historic Preservation may look into the matter. “It is certainly something that we’re interested in,” Platt said. “The Connecticut Trust asked for a list of endangered properties and I gave them Harrison’s [hardware store on Broad Street], 417 Gulf Street and the diner.”

The Memaj family owned and operated the Milford Diner for nearly 40 years before retiring about five years ago. Developer Ronald Lombard briefly owned the structure and planned to move it to a shopping plaza he owns on Melba Street. When those plans fell through, Smith and his partner Philip Craft bought it and considered uses, including a women’s apparel store and a casual restaurant.

Members of the city’s Economic Development Commission discussed at their April 22 meeting using the diner building as a visitors center, citing its location between the harbor and the train station. “I was heartened by the EDC’s suggestion that this unique building could be put to good use,” said Susan Shaw, owner of the Collected Stories Bookstore. “It is an icon of downtown. Now, just a few weeks after their consideration was made public, to find that there is now a demolition permit for this 1948 structure makes my heart sink.”

Blue Belle Diner gets another new home

Blue-Belle-1
Blue Belle Diner, photo copyright March, 1983 by Larry Cultrera

The Blue Belle Diner, Worcester Lunch Car # 814 circa 1948, spent all of it’s working life in Worcester, Mass., first on Chandler Street and then on Prescott Street.  A number of years ago (1998) it was forced to move from Prescott Street when the site was slated to be developed.

It then was moved first to Shrewsbury, Mass., then Milford, Mass. and finally Princeton, Mass. It changed hands almost each time it was moved and each new owner had hopes to reuse the diner and ironically none of these plans ever materialized. A piece written by Sandy Meindersma from today’s Worcester Telegram continues the saga….

 Blue Belle Diner is relocated to Dinky’s

Shrewsbury – After a stint in Princeton, the Blue Belle Diner has moved again, this time back to Shrewsbury. Bruce Trotto, owner of Dinky’s Restaurant, had the vintage-style diner relocated to his restaurant property, where he intends to use the diner to expand his seating and operating hours.

The 12-mile move took place late Wednesday night, with the assistance of Guaranteed Builders, which moved the diner, and the state police, who coordinated traffic. “It went very smoothly,” Mr. Trotto said. “It only took about half an hour.” The diner, which was built in 1948, has made its way around Worcester County, with stops in Shrewsbury, Milford, Worcester and Princeton.

In Worcester, it was at 86 Chandler St. from 1963 to 1972 and then was moved to 47 Prescott St., where it became a favorite hangout for students from Worcester Vocational and North High schools. It was moved from Prescott Street to Shrewsbury in 1998. Mr. Trotto bought the diner from Stephen P. Zottoli, owner of the Mountain Barn Restaurant, with the idea of incorporating it into his restaurant on Route 70 in Shrewsbury.

“It will be additional seating,” Mr. Trotto said. “And there will be a new entrance, a new kitchen and there will be an ice cream shop around the back.” Dinky’s Restaurant, which has 35 seats, is open for breakfast and lunch, but Mr. Trotto expects to extend the hours to include dinner once the addition has been completed. Mr. Trotto said he worked two years on the permitting, and expects to have a building permit by the end of June. “Then it will take four to six months to build,” he said.

T&G Blue Belle
New owner Bruce Trotto with Blue Belle Diner, photo courtesy
of  T&G Staff/Dan Gould

Hooray!! Fred’s Franks is open for the season!!

One of my favorite spots to get a quick meal is a small home-made trailer set up near the traffic rotary off exit 40 of I-95 (Rte. 128) on Rte. 129 at the head of Lake Quonapowitt in Wakefield, Mass. It is called Fred’s Franks and in the last 4 or 5 years has become quite popular.

Fred's-Franks-2
That’s Fred Rex holding forth behind the Big Green Egg

Fred cooks on a Big Green Egg Cooker and uses only Pearl Hot Dogs (Pearl Meat Packing Co. of Boston). He also features Kielbasa, Chorico, and Linguica along with home-made relishes. Check out his website at….  http://www.fredsfranks.com/ 
and also for more info on the Big Green Egg … http://www.biggreenegg.com/

Fred's-Franks-1

2 thoughts on “Notes from the Hotline, 5-8-2009

  1. The Milford Diner located in Milford, CT may have a new life. A group of business owners in Downtown Milford have set up a non-profit and are moving forward on the restoration.

    The Diner will remain in its current location–right in the heart of the busy business/historic district.

    Unfortunately, it will not be possible to use the Diner as it was intended–serving food. But it will become a community center, which is the next best thing since Diners were a place where people could come to hangout.

    Thanks to your organization–the information you supply is extremely helpful.

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