When I first started documenting Diners with my photographs, I was influenced by the purchase of a book that was published in the Fall of 1980, entitled Diners Of The Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink. Now granted, I had been a fan of Diners all my life and after I graduated high school, I actually used to hang out with a group of friends at Carroll’s Colonial DIning Car, a 1961 vintage Swingle Diner in my hometown of Medford, Massachusetts. But after I purchased a brand-new Chevy Van in April of 1979, I started increasing the range of my travels and also commenced Sunday morning road trips by the end of that year with my pal, Steve Repucci. These road trips usually started with a stop at a local diner. In the Summer of 1980 I had purchased a used 35mm camera and started shooting photos, primarily scenic shots, etc. But in the back of my mind I was already thinking of also taking photos of the diners I went to. Buying that book by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink finally pushed me over the edge and I took my first tentative photo of the By-Pass Diner in Harrisburg, PA on November 29, 1980.
Another thing that influenced me after reading that book was discovering the many diners they featured throughout New England, New York and New Jersey! This is how I first knew about The Blue Benn Diner!
I wrote about that first trip to The Blue Benn on November 26, 1982 in a blog post from 2011 and you can read about it here… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/the-day-after-thanksgiving-29-years-ago/
Sonny Monroe stepped away from the day to day operation of the Blue Benn Diner a number of years ago due to health problems, while Mary Lou continued to operate the diner along with their daughter, Lisa LaFlamme as well as the seasoned wait-staff and cooks. Franklin E. “Sonny” Monroe was 78 when he passed away on Monday December 30, 2019 at his residence following a long illness. Within three months The Blue Benn Diner closed due to the Covid pandemic and was never re-opened by the Monroe family. By July of 2020, Mary Lou put the diner up for sale and was eventually purchased by John Getchell, a former customer and graduate of Bennington College. The diner re-opened by March, 2021.
Back in April, 2021, I was contacted by Peter Crabtree of North Bennington, Vermont. Peter and his business partner Caitlin Randall together operate The Story Project. The Story Project creates commissioned books of all kinds for individuals, families and institutions. Peter had seen some photos I shot of Sonny’s Blue Benn Diner of Bennington, VT back in 1982 (probably the blog post from 2011) and asked if he could use one of them for a tribute book he and Caitlin were putting together. We spoke about the project and I told him I had no problem with him using the photo, which by the way is my favorite from that visit which was the one and only time I ate at the diner. To explain a little about the book, I have included the copy they included on the inside dust jacket….
Sonny Monroe was a short-order chef with big ambitions. A born culinary talent, he dreamed of a restaurant where he could create recipes that sparked his imagination. In 1974, Sonny and his wife
(Marylou) acquired a scrappy diner in southwestern Vermont. It wasn’t very long before Sonny’s Blue Benn was a Bennington landmark, as much for free-flowing conversation as the mouth-watering food. This is a book about a legendary diner and the family that created it. It’s also a celebration of a community hangout, a place that gave townspeople a chance to forge connections with their neighbors no matter what side of the political or economic divide they found themselves. In the tradition of Studs Terkel’s Working, the story is told by the people that made the Blue Benn a renowned Vermont institution: the regulars who ate there and the staff that served them. Sonny’s Blue Benn: Feeding the Soul of a Vermont Town celebrates the importance of small-town life and the value of local gathering places. These are stories of a Vermont community and an iconic diner that magically brought it together.
Within the last two weeks, I had received a text from Peter Crabtree saying the book had been completed and published and he asked for my mailing address so he could send me a copy. The book came in the mail this past Saturday, August 13th and I was surprised to see my photo big as life on the front of the dust jacket! I truly felt honored to see it used that way!
I immediately started reading the book and was completely moved by the feelings it elicited within me. The way the diner had played a part in bringing people together, acting as a community gathering place and the way that the patrons as well as the diner staff became an extended family through the decades since the Monroe family took over the operation of the diner. It also evoked a slight feeling of sadness to me as I now kick myself because I only ate there on that first visit in 1982. Now granted, I did photograph it two more times – once in 1983 and again in 1986, but I was probably within close proximity to Bennington, more than likely coming from someplace else on the way home.
Finishing the reading of this tribute book spurred me to contact Mary Lou Monroe. I actually had a great 25 minute or so conversation with her this week. I told her how much this book moved me and that I felt honored to have my photo of the diner featured on the front of the dust sleeve!
Peter Crabtree mentioned that Sonny’s Blue Benn – Feeding The Soul Of A Vermont Town can be purchased thru the Bennington Bookshop located at 109 South Street Bennington, VT 05201 and you can find them online at https://www.benningtonbookshop.com/about-us, purchase price is $40.00. Because their website does not link to the book, you can email them to inquire about it at firstname.lastname@example.org …
To learn more about The Story Project, go to http://www.thestoryproject.net, or you can contact them at: email@example.com
As an addendum to this post, I decided to include my photos that I have shot of The Blue Benn Diner over the years… the first five photos are from November 26, 1982
The next three photos are from my second time by the diner, July 19, 1983…
My last four photos came from September, 1986…