News Flash – Al Mac’s Diner of Fall River, Mass. Closes!

I just read a very disturbing news article out of Fall River, Mass. Al Mac’s Diner has closed its doors! The article which was written by reporter Will Richmond of The Herald News was posted on their website this afternoon has taken me, and I’m sure a host of other people by complete surprise.

Al Mac’s Diner in Fall River, Mass. May, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

As the slogan on their sign says….. Al Mac’s Diner was justly famous since 1910, even though the current building dates to the early 1950’s. Al McDermott had been in the business all his life operating lunch wagons and diners too numerous to keep track of. Co-owned since 1989 by Norm Gauthier, his daughter Dawn Xanyn and son-in-law Garet Xanyn this diner was known for its home-cooking.

This is the second diner I featured in my book “Classic Diners of Massachusetts” that has closed within the last week. Buddy’s Diner of Somerville was seized by the Mass. Dept. of Revenue for non-payment of taxes last week and now Al Mac’s has been affected by the slow economy. Here is the text from the newspaper article…..

Al Mac’s Diner closes

By Will Richmond – Herald News Staff Reporter
July 23, 2012


 The clock on the facade outside Al Mac’s Diner is stuck at 10:39. Unfortunately for the owners, the century-old restaurant wasn’t frozen in better times. Owner Norm Gauthier confirmed Monday the diner that he has owned for 23 years and has been part of the Fall River landscape since 1910 is closed. No longer will pancakes be available at 6 p.m. or homestyle meals eaten away from home.

Gauthier said the restaurant was done in by the economy. “We’re out of money,” Gauthier said, standing outside the darkened diner. “I’ve put every dime I have into this business and it’s just not successful anymore. The diner era is over. People would rather have flat screens to look at then have a conversation with somebody.” Gauthier said he is hoping to find someone who would be interested in purchasing the diner and breathe some new life into the business. “This would be a great opportunity for somebody interested in a turnkey operation,” he said.
Gauthier said his first 20 years of ownership were successful, but called the last three a “disaster.”  In addition to rising fuel and food costs and fewer patrons, Gauthier said other expenses increased in recent years, such as licensing fees. He said costs to meet tightened requirements have also played a role in the diner’s demise. In an effort to offset some of those costs Gauthier, had recently cut back on the diner’s hours of operation. “I feel awful. There is nothing I would like more than to open this place up again,” Gauthier said. His customers would agree. With word of the closure still making the rounds, potential customers looking for lunch Monday said they were shocked by the news.
Leo Marien, of Dighton, said he had just returned from vacation and was hankering for something from the Al Mac’s menu. “Boy, I’ll tell you, this is a landmark,” Marien said. “When you think of Fall River you think of Al Mac’s. This is a surprise.” Marien, who got familiar with Al Mac’s during a 40-year career working in Fall River, said he didn’t have a favorite menu item. Instead he said he often went with one of the daily specials, which he considered to be as good as home cooking. He recalled one time marveling over a slice of cherry cheesecake baked by Gauthier’s wife. After offering to purchase the remaining cheesecake, he said she instead baked him a fresh one. “I would always say coming here was like going home and eating,” Marien said. “I’m going to miss this place. I hope it isn’t going to be closed for long. I wish them all the luck.”
Calling the omelets, the Greek one in particular, his favorite, John Mello had traveled from Somerset for lunch Monday. Instead of getting a meal, he learned about the diner’s fate. “I knew they weren’t doing well, but this is depressing,” Mello said. “To me they had the best breakfast. This sucks.”
Hearing rumors about the diner’s possible demise, Tom Khoury, of Fall River, drove by to check for himself. He wasn’t pleased to see the “Closed” sign hanging in the window, confirming the worst. “It’s iconic and part of our social culture,” Khoury said, recalling an image from a car calendar that displayed the diner lit up in its neon glory. “It’s a shame it’s being closed. I’ve lived in Fall River all my life and to see something like this emotionally affects me.”
Marien offered a similar thought before getting back into his car in search of lunch. “It’s a piece of Americana we’re losing,” Marien lamented.
I will echo what these loyal customers stated…. this really sucks! I hope Gauthier can indeed find a worthy successor who can step back in and get this classic back up and running.

Diners and such, Fall River, Mass. in the 1980’s

I have probably written this before (in the book for sure), that back in the 1980’s, the old mill towns in Massachusetts still had high concentrations of diners left over from earlier decades. The cities of Lowell, Attleboro and Lynn come to mind. As the last 30 years have gone by, the amount of diners in these towns have also dwindled. In this post I am going to talk about the South Coast city of Fall River.

To start off this little tour, I am going to take you for a ride down the main thoroughfare known as Pleasant Street. Back in the 1980’s, Fall River still had 5 diners, 3 of them were located on Pleasant Street.

Paramount Diner/Catering

The first diner, heading from west to east on this street was the Paramount Diner/Paramount Catering located approximately at 171 Pleasant St. This was a  barrel-roofed Worcester Lunch Car dating from sometime in the 1930’s. I was checking through some Worcester Lunch Car Company info and could not find a Worcester Diner of this style and size that was delivered brand-new from the factory to Fall River. I suspect it was brought here from elsewhere (possibly the former Romeo’s Diner of nearby New Bedford). As I understand it, this operated at this location as the State Diner circa 1940 and was renamed the Paramount Diner later.

Paramount Diner/Catering at 171 Pleasant St. in Fall River, Mass. This is from my first visit to document diners in Fall River. I do not know the exact date as it was taken just before I started the diner log in July of 1981. It looks like the owners were covering the exterior with T-111 wooden panelling. The diner was just being used for a catering operation at this time.

In this second shot from the same visit in July of 1981, you can see the diner was attached to a larger building in the rear which itself was attached to what looks to be an old gas station-type building.

Here we see the diner in April of 1984 looking to be in similar condition.
No more T-111 has been installed (or finished for that matter). The only big difference is the windows on the side of the addition which were covered in the earlier shots are now uncovered, at least on the outside.

In doing some research for this post I came across an obituary from the Fall River Herald News dated April 26, 2008 for Peter Ciosek. Mister Ciosek passed away on April 25, 2008 at the age of 93. The obituary mentioned that he was the owner of the Paramount Diner/Catering for 35 years. The diner itself was gone by the late 1980’s, reportedly destroyed in a fire. There is currently an “L” shaped modern professional building on this site.

Sambo’s Diner

The next diner heading east on Pleasant St. was Sambo’s Diner. Located at 657 Pleasant St. it was a pretty rare configuration built by Paramount Diners of Haledon, NJ. Ironically, I received a scan of an ad from Jeff Kunkle of Vintage Roadside a few years ago. The ad was featured in a rare edition of the trade publication “Diner & Drive-In” magazine dating from May of 1956. The ad depicted this very diner and stated the owner was Sam Schwartz (hence the name Sambo’s).

Advertisement from May, 1956 issue of Diner & Drive-In magazine

This photo and the following three photos were shot in August of 1983 showing this diner in great detail. I can only conjecture that the flat roof of the diner had problems over the years and the owner added this slanted roof over the structure.

As one can see, this was a fairly small diner for the time period.

It was very stylish with large plate glass windows.

Looking inside you can see this interior is a throwback to lunchwagon days.

Unfortunately, this diner was gone by the early 1990’s and was replaced by a Mister Donut (now Dunkin Donut) shop.

Mark You Restaurant

In all those early diner hunting trips driving down Pleasant St., I passed by a completely remarkable looking storefront Chinese restaurant called the Mark You Restaurant (1236 Pleasant St.) and kept saying…. I have got to stop and photograph this place. I finally did shoot some photos of it in November of 1984, and I am so glad I did!  This place was so cool with a facade of black and biege Vitrolite, glass block windows and a tall verticle sign.

The lettering on the facade is probably 1940-1950 vintage and is accented by some stainless-steel trim. It might be hard to read, but the sign on the canopy/base of the verticle sign says “Chow Mein”.

That fantastic verticle sign really makes this place visible driving in either direction on Pleasant St.

A close-up of the sign

Another fantastic detail… a stainless-steel frame within the glass block window with a porthole that features a neon clock!

I checked online to see if this restaurant was still around as the last time I drove this stretch of Pleasant St. in May of 2011, I did not see the place. It seems the restaurant closed in 2007 and remained closed for approximately 3 years before being reopened. Unfortunately, it looks like the black and beige facade has been painted over in blue and white. Also during the 3 years it was closed, the verticle sign was removed, explaining why I did not notice the restaurant last year. I informed Dick Gutman about my plans in writing this post last weekend and mentioned the Mark You and he immediately told me that old friend Dave Waller rescued the sign. Well at least I know it did not go to a junk yard!

Nite Owl Diner

The Nite Owl Diner located at 1680 Pleasant Street is the final stop on this street before we move on. This circa 1956 diner was built by DeRaffele Diners.  I am not sure but I am thinking that this diner was also owned by Fall River “diner king” Al McDermott as this new little stainless-steel job replaced a truck-mounted Worcester Lunch Car (No. 786) that dated from 1945 that he owned.

The original Nite Owl Diner in Fall River. This was Worcester Lunch Car No. 786, the photo was taken right before it was replaced by the current diner.
Photo courtesy of John Baeder

This is possibly my favorite photo that I ever took of the Nite Owl Diner.
It dates to November of 1984 by the look of things, it seems the city was replacing the sidewalks around the diner.

This diner was “finished” on all sides with stainless-steel and red enamel stripes. Like its neighbor down the street, Sambo’s, this was set-up more like a lunch wagon on the interior instead of the more familiar layout.

As you can see the neon sign that had been installed on the roof of the older diner ended up on this one where it still sits today.

I went crazy photographing the diner that day in 1984 as the light was pretty much perfect!

Here is a 1991 “oil on canvas” painting by John Baeder of the Nite Owl.
(used with permission) image courtesy of John Baeder.

As far as I know, the Nite Owl Diner has stood closed now for a number of years but is still very much intact.

Al Mac’s Diner Restaurant

Now that we have left Pleasant St. we will travel back to the other end of town to Al Mac’s Diner located at 135 President Avenue. This is a 1953 vinatge DeRaffele Diner and one of the last bought by Al McDermott. When I first photographed this diner in July of 1981, it was actually facing President Avenue. Unless the light of day was a flat cloudy light, the diner which was facing north was very hard to photograph.

This particular day was sunny, but I managed to squeek out a couple of decent shots.

Before the end of the 1980’s, the diner was rearranged on the property. Basically the building was turned 90 degrees, counter clockwise and a new kitchen was built on the back. This way the large piece of property could be redeveloped into the strip mall that currently exists here.

Here is the diner turned and re-installed at the same location. Because of this new configuration, the diner has become more photogenic as it faces west now. By the way, that sign in this second photograph was brand-new and replaced the one in the older photograph which had rotted and ultimately fallen down.

Here is another “oil on canvas” painting by John Baeder from 1991. This image proves just how photogenic this diner became when it was turned around.

You can see more of John’s paintings here at his website….

Al Mac’s is a great place to have a meal when you are in the area and currently one of only 2 diners mentioned here that are still operating.

Andy’s Rockland Diner

This diner located at 1019 South Main Street in Fall River was known as just the “Rockland Diner” when I first came across it on March 13, 1982. This diner was built by J.B. Judkins of Merrimac, Mass., the manufacturers of Sterling Diners. This is in fact a Sterling Dinette, a fairly small diner model. This was one of at least two that I knew to exist in Massachusetts. The other was the Old Colony Diner in Mansfield (now The Catman Cafe). In fact both of these dinette models were enlarged by removing the left side wall and placing it on the front elevation.

The Rockland Diner in Fall River, The wall with 3 windows at the extreme
left of the front wall were originally the side wall of the diner.

The diner was enlarged even more with the brick addition on the right.

As I understand it, the diner is now completely encased in brick and fairly unrecogizable as a diner now. After Al Mac’s, the Rockland Diner is the only other diner that is still operating in Fall River.

Diner roadtrip, Memorial Day, 2011

I decided I needed to get to southeastern Massachusetts over the long weekend for some new photos. These would be for my “Classic Diners of Massachusetts” book. I am attempting to use entirely all-new photos for all the diners I am “featuring” in the book, mainly so I can show these diners as they are today. The diners I was interested in photographing were Betsy’s Diner in Falmouth, the Shawmut Diner in New Bedford and Al Mac’s Diner in Fall River. I was also hoping to squeeze in Don’s Diner in Plainville if we had time.

So Denise and I headed out on Saturday morning and stopped for a quick bite and a cup of coffee at Marylou’s Coffee Shop in West Quincy, right off the Expressway. After Marylou’s, we pointed the vehicle toward State Route 28 and followed it all the way into Wareham. We passed Dave’s Diner, a Star Lite Diner in Middleboro and the “closed” Sisson’s Diner, a “converted trolley car” in South Middleboro as well as the Mill Pond Diner, a 1950’s O’Mahony in Wareham along this route. I am happy to report that Dave’s and the Mill Pond were doing a great business. After crossing over the Cape Cod Canal we also passed by the Patriot Diner in Pocasset which also seemed to be doing a great business.

The weather was funny this particular morning as it was warm and sunny away from the coast but we were going in and out of Fog as we were mostly by the ocean. That is why the diner photos (with the exception of Don’s Diner) are a little on the cloudy side. Oh well, what can you do!

We got down to Betsy’s Diner shortly after 9:00 am and the diner seemed to be hopping. Denise overheard someone say they had gotten the best crowd they have seen all spring that morning (it has been a really unseasonably cold one). We got something else to eat and I briefly talked with Karen Chandler, who along with her husband Dave, have been operating the diner since they bought it from Larry Holmes in 1994.

Betsy’s Diner, Falmouth, Mass. May 28, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

Betsy’s Diner interior. May 28, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

Betsy’s is a beautifully maintained 1950’s Mountain View Diner that originally operated in Kuhnsville, PA under names such as the Peter Pan Diner and Michael’s Family Restaurant before being relocated here in the early 1990’s. I obtained a take-out menu for some info for the book as well as the photos and we were on our way again, heading toward the Shawmut.

The Shawmut was fairly busy as it was between breakfast and lunch. I had given owner Phil Paleologos a call when we were traveling from Falmouth to New Bedford and he promised to meet us within a half hour. This was when I found out that my buddy Phil’s concept of 25 minutes was actually closer to an hour. So while we were waiting, I got some new photos of the outside and inside of this great 1954 O’Mahony diner.

Shawmut Diner, New Bedford, Mass. May 28, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

Shawmut Diner interior, May 28, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

In fact, we were ready to leave when he finally showed up. We did have a nice few minutes talking with him. I got at least 3 bear-hugs from him (he never shakes hands as far as I can tell). Phil is the friendliest diner owner I know!

After saying goodbye to Phil, we continued west into Fall River for our next diner destination….. Al Mac’s Diner. We got there and it was still foggy but I got some decent photos. We met Garet Xanyn who co-owns the diner along with his father-in-law, Norman Gauthier. I asked for a take-out menu so I could refer to some of the diners offerings in the book. But unfortunately, they were out of them. Garet promised me that he would email me a copy.

Al Mac’s Diner, “Justly Famous Since 1910”, Fall River, Mass.
May 28, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

Al Mac’s Diner interior, May 28, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

I started heading home when Denise asked me about the possibility of checking out Don’s Diner in Plainville. She wanted to know if there was enough time to get there and then back home around the time we needed to be in Saugus. I said we could probably fit it in, so we detoured down I-495 over to Wrentham, which is just north of Plainville. We got to Don’s right after they closed, but the door was still open, so we went in. I was hoping to meet Perry Perreault who is the current operator for the business that was started by his grandfather in 1936. Unfortunately, he had just left! I explained to the waitress who was still on duty that I needed a couple of interior photos for the book. She said she could not give me permission, so I asked her to call Perry, whom I had been in contact with a day or two before to get permission. She did call him and he told her it was OK. So I got my shots and went home.

Don’s Diner, Plainville, Mass. May 28, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

Don’s Diner interior, May 28, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

After Don’s, we scooted home and went about our usual Saturday afternoon routine at home and I was able to get some more writing in for the book. The next day we had breakfast at the Four Sister’s Owl Diner on our way up to Hudson, NH for an errand. After that I got some more writing in and around noon time we went and dropped something off at the place I am employed in Danvers. We then jumped over to nearby Beverly for another errand which was conveniently located near the newly opened stand called The Scotty Dog, a place that features a true “Chicago Hot Dog”. This is located on the corner of Rantoul Street and Elliot Street (Rte. 1A & Rte. 62) where Ron Dogs had operated for a short time.

I met Steve Scott who runs the business with his son Matt along with a few other employees. I was excited to see that they were doing a decent business as they had their Grand Opening two days before. I was not hungry so I grabbed a couple of photos and promised to be back.

The Scotty Dog, Beverly, Mass. May 29, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Scotty Dog, Beverly, Mass. May 29, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

Well, I did get back there on Tuesday after work. I got a Chicago Dog (a Vienna Beef Dog) with all the fixin’s, a kosher pickle spear, 2 slices of tomato, diced onions, 2 sport peppers and neon relish with a dash of celery salt (I did not get the yellow mustard, I don’t like mustard) on a steamed poppy seed bun and an order of French Fries. The photo below is the very first time I have ever photographed a meal I was about to eat! I felt really weird doing that, let me tell you. But I figured, I see “Food Bloggers” doing it all the time so here you go.

An order of French Fries with a Chicago Hot Dog at The Scotty Dog
May 31, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

I wish the crew at The Scotty Dog good luck and hope to get up there for semi-regular meals.

I also heard from Bob Higgins over the weekend and he sent reports and photos of the former Diner 317 in Plaistow, NH. They had only been open a short time, from the opening in November, 2010 to the closing in March of this year. Now it looks like this beleagured diner is reopening as Betty’s Diner fairly soon. Bob said the stools had been removed (hope they put real ones back in, not movable ones) and they painted the exterior a bright pink (which actually does not look bad). I guess we will have to check this out in the near future and see what happens.

Betty’s Diner, Plaistow, NH. Photo courtesy of Bob Higgins

Betty’s Diner sign, Plaistow, NH. Photo courtesy of Bob Higgins
as you can see the project for the new sewer pipes being installed along Rte. 125 seems to be moving along.

Betty’s Diner, Plaistow, NH. Photo courtesy of Bob Higgins

Thanks to Bob Higgins for sending along these photos.