Pantazis family celebrates 50 years at Chet’s Diner

The Pantazis family is celebrating the 50 year anniversary of their ownership of the venerable Chet’s Diner in Northborough, Mass.  The diner was open this past Sunday for a private party so all their long-time regular customers could come and mingle, tell stories and reminisce with matriarch Nancy Pantazis, her daughter Ann Fidrych and granddaughter Jessica Fidrych, as well as current and former employees of this 1930’s vintage diner.

Chet’s Diner, Northborough Mass. photo by Larry Cultrera

It has been reported over the years by various sources including the owners themselves that this is a Worcester Lunch Car built diner. But from all indications this was built on-site with a typical Worcester Lunch Car configuration. The windows and size of the diner, including its rather long barrel roof overhangs as well as materials for interior and exterior surfaces do not conform to what would have been produced by the factory. The owners have a framed sheet of paper that appears to be a list of costs in what looks to be Charles Gemme’s handwriting for certain equipment that was more than likely purchased from Worcester Lunch Car Co. (Gemme was the longtime vice president and superintendent of the company).

Regardless of its pedigree, this is still a quintessential diner in all senses, a community gathering place where regular customers as well as transient ones travelling along U.S. Rte. 20, can stop to eat a great meal and join in the conversation.

Here is an article from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette by staff writer Lisa Eckelbecker on the celebration this past Sunday…….

Chet’s at 50


NORTHBORO —  Not much changes at Chet’s Diner.

Yes, the stools at the counter got a face-lift recently, but the worn Formica counter remains. The menu, which may add a few new specials now and then for the breakfast and lunch crowd or the Friday night fish fry, still features the diner’s popular homemade hash. And the décor is vintage diner, including a brown-edged sign on one wall warning, “Prices subject to change according to customer’s attitude.”

Yet ask Ann E. Fidrych, daughter of the couple who bought the diner 50 years ago, what’s kept the business going for so long, and the first thing she mentions isn’t the food or the surroundings, it’s the people.

“People come here, and they know they’re remembered,” she said. “And if we don’t know your name, we know what you eat,” added waitress Selene M. Melanson, who has worked off and on at Chet’s for 10 years.

The Pantazis family yesterday celebrated 50 years of ownership at Chet’s with a private party for friends and regular customers. Instead of hash, they dished up hot dogs, chili, lasagna, salad and bread.

Nancy A. Pantazis, 87, who bought the diner in 1960 with her late husband, James, with a $2,500 mortgage, sat at a table and greeted old friends, her gray hair swept up with a tiara and a white rose corsage fixed to her right wrist. Ann Fidrych, widow of former major league pitcher Mark S. Fidrych, mingled with the crowd. Her daughter and the new president of Chet’s, Jessica L. Fidrych, tended bar.

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, showed up with a congressional certificate recognizing Chet’s, but much of the party was without speeches. Regular customers rubbed elbows with former employees.

Carleen E. McKinstry of Northboro eats breakfast every day at Chet’s, usually Egg Beaters and toast about midmorning. Her husband is an early diner, usually arriving about 5:30 a.m.

“I come here six days a week,” Mrs. McKinstry said. “I’d come seven days a week if it were open.” It’s more than food, however, that draws her to the long, low dining car, manufactured in 1931 by the Worcester Lunch Car Co.

“I love the family,” Mrs. McKinstry said. “Nancy and I were close. When my mother passed away, she started talking about her mother. We cried together.”

The Pantazis family represents the third set of owners of the diner. The original owner was believed to be Chet Warren. About the mid-1930s, the Strazero family took over.

Ann Fidrych said her father, a Greek immigrant and former Army sergeant, wanted to cook. Cook, he did, with his wife at his side peeling potatoes. Nancy Pantazis, asked how many potatoes she peeled over the “40-something” years she worked at the diner, said, “tons and tons.”

When they needed help, they drafted trusted young people. Arthur E. Boucher of Boylston and four of his five siblings worked at the diner, sweeping the parking lot and cooking at the grill. If he needed money for a date, young Arthur would grab change from the cash register and leave “Jimmy” a note.

“Jimmy and Nancy were like parents to all the kids in our family,” said Mr. Boucher, who worked at the diner for about 10 years.

His younger brother, Michael J. Boucher, now of Harvard, never even had a formal interview when he started his four-year stint at Chet’s Diner. “Jimmy didn’t say, ‘Do you want a job?’ He said, ‘It’s time,’ ” Michael Boucher said.

Jessica Fidrych, 23, the third generation to run the diner, uncapped bottles of beer yesterday for party guests, mixed drinks and posed for pictures. She described the diner as her “calling.” “This is my life,” she said. “I was born here. It was in my blood.”

But would she change Chet’s? “Things are always up our sleeve,” she said.

Diner Hotline extends congratulations to  the Pantazis/Fidrych family on their 50 years at the helm of  Chet’s Diner, as well as good wishes hopefully for the next 50 years!