Bruce Trotto reopens Blue Belle Diner


Blue Belle Diner at its long-time operating location on Prescott Street
In Worcester, Mass.

It has been a long time coming but the day has finally arrived, the Blue Belle Diner has been reopened at its new location just over the town line from Worcester on Route 70 in Shrewsbury, Mass. The Blue Belle Diner, Worcester Lunch Car No. 814  has been in limbo for 12 years when it was relocated from its long-time home on Prescott Street in Worcester in 1998. In the interim it has been moved to locations in Shrewsbury, Milford, Worcester and Princeton but never put back into service until it landed back in Shrewsbury last year adjacent to Dinky’s Restaurant & Cafe, an on-site built restaurant operated by Bruce Trotto.


The Blue Belle Diner earlier this year showing the new installation
adjacent to Dinky’s in Shrewsbury

I saw mentions on Facebook yesterday from Randy Garbin, Brian Goslow and Bruce Trotto himself about the diner being opened.  I checked out the diners website  http://www.dinkys.us/  and there was this little blurb……..

Thursday, September 16th 2010, Dinky’s Blue Belle Diner quietly opened it’s doors to the new addition of the former Dinky’s Restaurant & Cafe! ” We’re going to spend a week or so ironing out the wrinkles before the GRAND OPENING CELEBRATION the weekend of October 2nd and 3rd.”

I am planning on getting out to Shrewsbury next weekend for the Grand Opening.  I will post new photos after my visit.

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Images from the Past… Wightman’s Diner

Recently I got an email from Elaine Monast from South Attleboro, Mass. She found Diner Hotline and decided to contact me. One of the subjects she brought up in her email was Wightman’s Diner. She wondered why I did not have anything on this diner in the blog. I told her I did not have much but I could still do some sort of post on it as I thought it was a worthy subject!

Wightman’s Diner was touted as “The Largest Diner in the World” and at the time it was operating, this may have been true. The very first image I ever saw of Wightman’s Diner was in Richard J.S. Gutman’s book, American Diner (Harper & Row, 1979) and this photo really made an impression on me.


Wightman’s Diner, circa late 1920’s to early 1930’s, photo courtesy of
Richard J.S. Gutman

Located on U.S. Route 1 in South Attleboro, Mass., Wightman’s started out as a lunch wagon in 1923 and by the late 1920’s owner Elmer C. Wightman had upgraded to the diner you see above. In fact that diner consisted of 2 fairly large Jerry O’Mahony barrel-roofed diners flanking 1 really large O’Mahony car. This was huge for the time!

Detail image from the Providence Sunday Journal, October 9, 1938

The diner kept getting larger and by the late 1930’s it featured a large room on the extreme left hand side of the restaurant…. the Olde Mexico Room. This room featured the choicest of foods and liquors, finest dance floor surface and unusual floor show!

Between the Olde Mexico Room and the main diner was a 1931 vintage Worcester Lunch Car (No. 677) that was built as a dining room only (no counter or cooking area). This was a basic plain car for Worcester with no ceramic tile to speak of, just oak panelled walls and black & white linoleum covered floors. Its dimensions were 14 feet by 40 feet.


Wightman’s Dinette – a new dining room for those who desire prompt table service. An unusually pleasant room to bring the family.
Detail image & caption from the Providence Sunday Journal,
October 9, 1938


Wightman’s Diner match cover

Wightman’s. Largest Diner in the World. South Attleboro — Route 1 — Mass.
Banquet Hall: — Accommodations for large and small groups, showers, wedding breakfasts, banquets, sales meetings, social gatherings, etc.
Mexican Patio Room: — Where folks enjoy nightly, the choicest of foods and liquors, and the finest dance floor surface.
Phone Perry 1994 for reservations. Under the personal management of John C, Wightman, Prop. (caption from back of Post card)

Looks like Wightman’s also had a diner in Rumford, RI, a Brill diner according to the detail image in the postcard.


cover from Wightman’s menu courtesy of  Culinary Arts Museum at
Johnson & Wales University


Wightman’s menu page courtesy of  Culinary Arts Museum at
Johnson & Wales University


Wightman’s menu courtesy of  Culinary Arts Museum at
Johnson & Wales University


another Wightman’s match cover

Providence Sunday Journal – full page ad celebrating Wightman’s 15th Anniversary, October 9, 1938

According to the Worcester Lunch Car Company work books, there was also a Wightman’s Diner in Pawtucket, RI. This was Worcester Lunch Car No. 675. It was located on Pawtucket Avenue and was a 12.5 feet by 30.5 feet barrel-roof with “Tables for Ladies” as well as counter seating.

I’m not sure when Wightman’s stopped operating but there is no trace of this once sprawling complex in South Attleboro. I do know that Almac’s market built a store on the sight (possibly late 1950’s to early 1960’s). More recently, Almac’s closed and Yankee Spirits liquor and wine stores currently runs an outlet in the building.

Thanks, to Dick Gutman and the Culinary Arts Museum for providing images as well as Elaine Monast for providing the incentive for this post.

More Bel-Aire Diner info from Salem News

Well, It looks like the Bel-Aire Diner is definitely “For Sale” which is not a surprise. The Kallas family who have owned the diner since it was brand-new have actually dropped the price from the astronomical $199, 000.00 they had been asking for it to a more reasonable $50,000.00.

It still may not be worth that much due to the fact that whoever buys it would have to replace the formica ceiling because of water damage from a leaking roof. That alone will cost a pretty penny if it is done correctly. Gary Thomas said in a recent conversation maybe if they gave it to someone who would pay for the price of moving it, that might be worth it and I would tend to agree.


Bel-Aire Diner this past Saturday morning

The photos in this post were shot on Saturday morning and later that day, I got an email from Bob Higgins who told me by late morning the diner had “For Sale” signs posted on it which happened not too long after I was there.

A lot of other people grabbed onto this article earlier today and have posted it to their websites and message boards, etc. So I might as well pass it along if some of my readers have yet to see this. Anyway, here is an article from todays Salem News written by staff writer Matthew K. Roy that has more info as to what might or might not happen…….

Peabody’s Bel-Aire diner up for sale

PEABODY — Fear not, diner lovers, the Bel-Aire will not end up on the scrap heap.

But it could find its way to northern New Hampshire, owner John Kallas said yesterday. One of three interested buyers would relocate the diner to Pittsburg, or “Snowmobile country,” as Kallas called it.

The Bel-Aire was recently moved to the front of the Route 1 north property where it served customers for 55 years before closing in 2006. It is being replaced by a commercial strip mall that will include Red’s Kitchen and Tavern, a new incarnation of the famous Red’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Salem.

Kallas has it on the market for $50,000. That price purchases a kitchen “75 to 80 percent” intact, according to Kallas, and all of the Bel-Aire’s dishes and silverware.

“It has sentimental value, definitely,” Kallas said.

Kallas’ father, Peter, opened the Bel-Aire after serving in World War II, with help from brothers Bill and Jim. Kallas began working there at 6, standing on milk crates to wash dishes.

If a sale can’t be completed, Kallas said, he will not destroy the diner. He will “shrink wrap it” and store it at the back of his Route 1 property until a sale or use can be realized.

“We’re trying to find somebody to take it,” Kallas said. “It just needs a little tender love and care.”


A view of the cellar floor of the former Bel-Aire Diner this past Saturday,
Come in We’re OPEN” indeed!

Bel-Aire Diner goes “Aire” borne……


Bel-Aire Diner right after being slid down the beams into the parking lot
by Gary Sylvester’s Building Movers and Excavators yesterday.

As I have mentioned in the previous recent Bel-Aire Diner posts, I drive by the diner on U.S. Rte. 1 usually twice a day (Monday thru Friday), to and from work. Ironically Wednesday was one day I did not drive by in the afternoon as I had errands to do in Medford and Somerville and it was quicker for me to bypass Rte. 1 south and instead take I-95 to I-93 to get to my destinations.


rear view of the diner as I approached from where I parked my car.

Wednesday morning the diner was still the way it has been since the early 1950’s although during the previous 3 weeks, crews had been excavating the parking lot behind and to the right of the diner as well as dismantling the service bays of the gas station next door in anticipation of the redevelopment of the site.


diner now in parking lot next to the tall roadside sign

So driving north on Thursday morning at 5:50 am, I looked over at the diner and was surprised to notice the cinder block kitchen addition had been torn down the day before! Well Thursday afternoon I also had to be somewhere but had enough time to drive by the site and noticed the diner was newly jacked up off the foundation and the movers had beams under the diner ready for rolling the building forward into the parking lot.


opposite view of the diner next to sign

I immediately got on the horn and called Dick Gutman, Steve Repucci, Randy Garbin, Beth Lennon and Ron Dylewski to alert them that the diner was in fact being moved (Diner Hotline, Diner Hotline!). I continued on to my appointment and as soon as I was done with that, I went home and got my camera and drove back to the diner.


rear view from right side with workman checking under the diner

I shot all these photos and met Gary Sylvester whose company was contracted to move the diner. He told me that he thought the diner might be moving to Lowell, Mass. but was not really sure. My take on this is that the diner will be temporarily stored in the front parking lot prior to being transported to parts unknown.


looking at the broken foundation and cellar hole


another view from right hand side with sign


walking back to the car, I turned and took this shot

Notes from the Hotline, 9-6-2010

Say Goodbye to the Bel-Aire Diner?


Me about 20 years ago in front of the Bel-Aire Diner
photo by Steve Repucci

As I mentioned in the last post, plans are moving forward with the redevelopment of the Bel-Aire Diner site on U.S. Rte. 1 north in Peabody, Mass. I also said there was conflicting info on whether the diner was going to be kept as part of the new development. A few days ago Beth Lennon sent me a link to a news article about the  new project which had just received some permits for the restaurant that is to be called Red’s Kitchen and Tavern. See….. http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/salem/2010/09/reds_to_open_a_new_location_in.html?p1=HP_Well_YourTown_links .  Beth read into the article and thought that the diner might be included in the plans and I expressed my skepticism because of some of the conflicting info I was getting.

I decided to check it out by having breakfast on Saturday morning at Red’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Salem. Being as these people were going to be expanding their business by opening the new location in Peabody, that someone there should be privy to what is going to happen. Sure enough, I asked the person who rang up our check about it and she confirmed that in fact the diner was not going to be included in the new development!

So now I guess it remains to be seen as to what happens to the diner! Best case scenario is the diner gets picked-up, moved and stored somewhere until someone buys it. The worst case scenario is the diner gets torn down. Your guess is a s good as mine. stay tuned!

Rochester, NH’s Remember When Diner to close
and be auctioned


Remember When Diner 2004 photo by Larry Cultrera

Sad news to report from the Granite State, the Remember When Diner located on Rte. 11 in Rochester, NH is closing its doors this month and the plans are to have the place auctioned. I first wrote about this diner back in the hardcopy-print version of Diner Hotline in the Fall 2001 edition of the SCA Journal (Society for Commercial Archeology) In that piece, I had mentioned that the diner (a Starlite diner built in Ormond Beach, FL)opened for business, the day after Thanksgiving of 2001.

A September 4th article written by John Nolan from Fosters.com tells the story about why the diner has to close…

ROCHESTER — The Remember When Diner, owned and operated by Joe and Marlene Blanchette of Farmington, will close its doors on Sept. 19 and go on the auction block on Sept. 27.

A sad Joe Blanchette said that the restaurant, over the past two years had produced enough revenue to pay staff and supplier, but it was insufficient to service the mortgage debt.

After three years running a restaurant in nearby Cardinal Plaza, the Blanchettes opened the Remember When Diner on Nov. 21, 2001. The beautiful, classic diner, which seats 150 people, was manufactured in Ormond Beach, Fla. and by the time the Blanchettes had purchased the restaurant, bought the land where it would sit, had site work done that included bringing in 27,000 cubic yards of fill, and constructing a full basement, they had spent $1.1 million.

In the early years, said Joe Blanchette, they did very well, serving the debt and keeping their supplier paid. In 2007, however, the restaurant went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, due to overextending its credit cards. It was still a very viable business though, and before the end of that year, the Remember When Diner became one of only three businesses in the whole of New Hampshire to emerge from Chapter 11, according to Joe Blanchette.

“We got through it,” he said, adding that 2008 was a good year, financially. “Then 2009 was killer.”

The economic recession had hit, and impacted the eating habits of both the local population and travelers.

“Now, in 2010, we are off in our numbers from 2009,” he added. “It has been a money pit.”

At one point the couple had hoped to negotiate a restructuring of their mortgage with People’s United Bank (formerly Ocean Bank) but this has not transpired, and thus the auction on Sept. 27.

“Hopefully a restaurant group will come in and get this place for a bargain — maybe half a million (dollars). They will have less debt service, and if they are a group with a few restaurants, they will have cash flow,” said Joe Blanchette.

His hope is that the new owners will retain some, if not all, of his staff of 25 people, some of whom have been with him for years.

Gift cards

“I would like to say thank you to everyone for their patronage,” he said, and reminded anyone with a Remember When gift card to come in and redeem it for a meal before Sept. 19. He stopped selling gift cards a few weeks ago in the knowledge that closure was coming, as, he did not want customers to be left holding something that a new owner has no obligation to honor.

People with FIRA cards (from the Favorite Independent Restaurant Association) can redeem them at any time at any of the other 40 member restaurants in the Seacoast area, Joe Blanchette said.

The Blanchettes, both of whom are in their 60s, now plan to sign up for Social Security, with Joe now keeping his eye out for a part-time job.

Regrets

Among the Remember When Diner patrons are the members of Rochester Veterans Council, and the president of that group, Norman Sanborn Sr., expressed his regret that the Blanchettes are going out of business.

“He (Joe) was one of our great supporters. It is a shame. We held breakfast meetings there and used it for a couple monthly meetings and the Christmas parties for the Riverside Rest Home veterans. Joe and Harvey Bernier would pick up the tab for the Riverside parties,” said Sanborn

He added, “There are not many old-fashioned, real diners in this area. I feel real bad for the girls (waitresses) for a lot of them have been with Joe for a long time. The veterans will miss him.”

When the article stated that Joe Blanchette hopes a “restaurant group” buys the diner at auction, I believe that he is possibly thinking along the lines of The Common Man Restaurants which would make sense to me as they already have 3 diners under their ownership. They are the Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, The Airport Diner in Manchester and the Route 104 Diner in New Hampton. Anyway I’m thinking it might be time for a trip up to Rochester next weekend to have one last meal at the Remember When Diner under Joe Blanchette’s ownership

Sunday roadtrip into Rhode Island

The weather this Labor Day weekend has been unbelievably fantastic! I convinced my reluctant wife (Denise) to go on an excursion down to Rhode Island on Sunday. My goal was to use a gift certificate I had for the A&W Drive-In Restaurant in Smithfield. I also figured that I would take a side-trip over to Cindy’s Diner, located on U.S. Rte. 6 in North Scituate so I could finally document this “built-on-site” diner with photos as the 2 places were only a short distance from each other.

This next part is modified from my original post… I had been aware of Cindy’s Diner for quite some time, mostly through an old postcard (which I do not have in the collection), as well as other peoples photos. Cindy’s sits on the same property as the “America’s Best Value Inn” motel and features a unique rooftop neon sign. Through the years I’d also seen a postcard of a similar diner by the name of the Bo-Peek Diner.  When I first wrote this post back in 2010 I had thought they might be the same diner (although altered) as they both were situated in front of a “U”-shaped motel, in fact the Bo-Peek had a very similar rooftop sign to Cindy’s. It was not until December 29, 2015 that I was informed through an email from Jessica (a waitress at Cindy’s Diner) that the Bo-Peek was down the street in front of a different motel (the Skyview Motor Inn). Apparently, I had never traveled this stretch of Rte. 6 between the towns of Johnston and Foster, RI so I never saw either place (the Bo-Peek is gone).


Cindy’s Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera


Cindy’s Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 10.46.41 AM
Cindy’s Diner postcard

 


Bo-Peek Diner postcard.

As I stated above, the similarity of the locations as well as the signage led me to believe they were the same place but heavily altered. Be that as it may, I cannot visit the Bo-Peek but I do want to make a trip back sometime for breakfast at Cindy’s. It looks like a great place!

So after taking the photos of Cindy’s, we headed over to Smithfield and I got A&W’s “3 Hot Weiner” special and Denise got the Chicken strip meal. The special included a large Root Beer so I had to fore-go the usually requisite coffee milk one gets with Hot Weiners!


A&W sign with the 3 Hot Weiners Special!

We headed north from Smithfield through North Smithfield on roads I may have never traveled before, eventually bringing us into familiar territory, coming out onto Rte 146A near Slatersville. This brought us back into Massachusetts heading into Uxbridge. We headed east on Rte. 16 from downtown Uxbridge and made a quick stop in Mendon to take some new summertime photos of the Miss Mendon Diner. I had actually documented this diner last Labor Day weekend when it was being set-up on the new site. So I felt it was only poetic justice to take the new shots of it operating (in good weather as opposed to the last shots in winter) a year later!


Miss Mendon Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera


Miss Mendon Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera