Maine’s A1 Diner honors longtime cook with renamed specialty!


early 1980’s view of Giberson’s Diner (now the A1 Diner)
photo by Larry Cultrera

I got a message from Sarah Rolph last week asking me to post this press release she wrote for our friends Mike Giberson and Neil Anderson, co-owners of the A1 Diner in Gardiner, Maine. Mike and Neil have decided to rename one of their most popular menu items after Bob Newell, a retired long-time cook at the diner. I will let the press release tell the story……..

A1 Diner Honors Longtime Cook Bob Newell with “Bob’s Corned Beef Hash”

Dish Renamed for Longtime Cook who cooked for 57 Years at A1 Diner

Gardiner, Maine, September 18, 2012 – A1 Diner owners Mike Giberson and Neil Andersen announced today that their famous corned beef hash has been named after longtime diner cook Bob Newell.

Bob’s Corned Beef Hash, as it is now known, was made by Bob Newell until his retirement from A1 Diner in September 2009. Although Bob no longer works at A1 Diner, he does stop by from time to time. “Once when I was there, they hadn’t put enough garlic in,” said Bob in a recent interview.

It is believed that the garlic problem has since been corrected, but diner patrons are encouraged to check it out and let the chefs know whether Bob’s Corned Beef Hash is living up to its reputation.

“The corned beef hash at A1 Diner was never better than when Bob made it,” said diner co-owner Mike Giberson. “We miss Bob, and we know he misses the diner. It is a pleasure to honor Bob’s longtime service by naming our great hash after Bob, a great cook.”

Bob is the only person in the 66-year history of the diner to have worked for all four owners: Eddie Heald, Maurice Wakefield, Al “Gibey” Giberson, and current owners Neil Andersen and Michael Giberson (Al’s son). He began his career as third cook at the historic Worster House in Hallowell, Maine, a very popular restaurant in the 1940s and 1950s. When Heald’s diner (now A1 Diner) came to town in 1946, Bob went to work there, and, except for the years of his service in the Korean war, cooked there until his retirement in 2009.


A1 Diner has named a dish in honor of longtime diner cook Bob Newell
(at right, shown with A1 Diner co-owner Mike Giberson). The only cook to work for all four owners of the diner (previously Giberson’s, Wakefield’s, and Heald’s Diner), Bob worked at the diner for 57 years until his retirement in 2009. Bob was famous for his biscuits, and for his corned beef hash, now to be forever known as Bob’s Corned Beef Hash. Photo by Jeff Giberson

Recollections from Bob are a treasured part of the book about the diner, A1 Diner: Real Food, Recipes, and Recollections by Sarah Rolph (Tilbury House, 2006). In the book, Bob discusses the changes in the diner and its food over the years, provides biscuit-making tips, and shares some of his favorite anecdotes, such as the time he met Andrew Wyeth at the diner. To learn more about the book, visit http://sarahrolph.com/a1diner.html

About A1 Diner
A1 Diner is a nationally known restaurant in Gardiner, Maine. Chef-owned by Michael Giberson and Neil Andersen, the diner serves both traditional New England diner food and fine-food specialties. A1 Diner was featured on the Food Network’s popular show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, hosted by Guy Fieri. Born as Heald’s in 1946, the diner is a traditional, manufactured diner—Worcester Lunch Car #790. For more information, visit http://a1diner.com/ and http://www.facebook.com/pages/A-1-Diner


Classic postcard of Heald’s Diner in Gardiner, Maine
currently operating as the A1 Diner

Looking for a good read? Here’s a recommendation…

Check out A1 Diner, Real Food, Recipes, & Recollections
by Sarah Rolph

I have recently been in contact with Sarah Rolph. I knew about her through various people including Dick Gutman (author of American Diner Then & Now and The Worcester Lunch Car Company) who contributed archival photos as well as a  promo blurb on the back cover, and Ron Dylewski of “The American Roadside” website (http://www.theamericanroadside.com/) . In fact it was Ron who first put me in touch with her just over a year ago. Anyway Sarah wrote a book that came out in 2006 that I finally added to my Diner/Roadside library and it is a really great read!

This book captures the essence of the A1 Diner in Gardiner, Maine. This is Worcester Lunch Car # 790, a lovingly maintained circa 1946 vintage semi-streamlined model installed in a unique location. Originally known as Heald’s Diner (the name is still emblazoned on the porcelain panels) the diner is actually mounted on a steel frame 20 feet above ground to place the building adjacent to the bridge that crosses the Cobbossee Stream. The Diner’s front and side doors are entered from the bridge. You can also walk down stairs on the left side of the diner to the street below and actually view the underside of the diner.

I first knew about this diner through the book Diners of the Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink. Their book was a state by state guide to diners from Maine to New Jersey published in 1980 by The Berkshire Traveller Press. Of the diners in Maine they reviewed, the A1 (then still known as Wakefield’s Diner) seemed to be one of the highlights of their research.

Sarah Rolph’s book  features reminisces and stories from original owner Eddie Heald’s daughter Marguerite Gagne to second owner Maurice Wakefield to third owner Albert Giberson leading to current owners Mike Giberson and Neil Andersen. Along the way there are also stories from waitresses and other workers through the years, most notably Bob Newell who worked for every owner until retiring within the last 2 or 3 months.


Giberson’s Diner, photo circa August 28, 1982
by Larry Cultrera

Customers old and new chime in as well and the sense of history and nostalgia, not to mention sense of place and community come shinning through, making one want to take the long ride up to Gardiner to experience this place again (or even for the first time if you’ve never been). Interspersed throughout are recipes for meals from the respective different owners/cooks and time periods down the years.

I asked Sarah how she came about writing this book and she answered…..

I learned about the diner from my friend Karen Molvig. (She is no longer living.)  I met Karen when we both lived in Manhattan, in the late 1970s.  I was in my early twenties (I’m 54 now).  I moved to Boston in 1980.  Several years later, Karen moved to Maine—the Great Escape from the city.  She bought a place in Gardiner and eventually found A1 Diner.  Knowing I would enjoy the place, she took me there for supper on one of my visits.  She and her partner Jean had started to become friends with Mike and Neil, so that made it easy to meet them.


Giberson’s Diner, photo circa August 28, 1982
by Larry Cultrera

 I am originally from California, and had never been in an authentic diner.  I was fascinated by the small size, the fine materials, and the charm of the place.  I also loved the food.  As I got to know Mike, who was the main chef during the time I visited—late 1990s—he told me stories about the history of the diner.  It was clear he was very proud of his role in keeping the place alive and making it better, and it seemed like a really interesting story to me, the way the diner’s ups and downs reflected the changes of the town. 

When Mike and Neil purchased the diner, in the late 1980s, it was a difficult time in Gardiner.  I loved the small-business success story, the way Mike and Neil patiently worked to make the diner a success according to their longstanding vision.  They had to move very slowly, to keep from alienating their small cadre of regular customers and to keep from signaling to the town that this new version of the diner would be for yuppies only.  They really wanted to stay true to the diner’s heritage as a center of a community, and they succeeded in doing that while also upgrading it.  Now, as you know, you can still get a good old-fashioned hamburger, but you can also get Asian noodles.


Underneath the Diner, photo circa August 28, 1982
by Larry Cultrera

 When I met them, Mike and Neil had largely achieved this vision, but they told me stories about the way it had been when they started, and it was clear that it had been a long and difficult road.  I really admired their ability to achieve their dream through sheer hard work and imagination.  It seemed like that alone was a great story, the small-business challenges that had finally paid off. 

Ruth Reichl’s first memoir, Tender at the Bone, had come out around that time, and Mike and I both enjoyed it very much.  It reminded me of Mike, too.  Ruth learned to cook when she was a little kid, and so did Mike—he told me he would cook when nobody was home, and if the dish didn’t work out he would hide the evidence.  That book included recipes, which has since become a bit of a trend.  We thought it would be fun to do a history of the diner with recipes from every era.  I wanted to use the same approach Reichl did, having each recipe fit with one of the stories.  (In the end, I had to cheat a little bit to make it work out so that there were recipes in every chapter.  We didn’t have any recipes from the Eddie Heald era, but we used a modern soufflé recipe since we served soufflé to Marguerite Gagne when I interviewed her at the diner.  (Sadly, she is no longer living.)

 Tilbury House, Publishers, is located in Gardiner, Maine, so it was an easy sell.  In fact the publisher had been hoping someone would write a book about the diner and asked Neil—he told her someone was working on something, so she wasn’t even surprised to hear from me!

 Once I had the contract with Tilbury I did more research, spent a lot of time with Mike and Neil, interviewed Cindy and Bob, and interviewed Maurice Wakefield over the phone.  He was living in Florida at the time (he, too, has since died).  His mind was still very sharp, although his hearing was starting to go.  He had a special phone that increased the volume.  His daughter would make the appointments with me and take the call and then tell Maurice to get on his phone. 

He was great to interview, remembered a lot of stories, and wanted to tell me exactly how things were.  He was so pleased that people still remembered him and still cared.  It had been about thirty years, so he thought people would have forgotten him, but they had not.  Not only did the diner people I interviewed have stories about Maurice, but people in town remembered him, too. 

When I went to the State Library to look for old clippings, the gal who showed me how to use the microfiche machine, when I said I was writing about the diner, said “Oh!  Wakefield’s?!”  It was still Wakefield’s to her.  I was pleased to tell Maurice that.  I did two long phone interviews with him, and then I decided I really wanted to meet him, so Mike and I traveled to Florida and spent an afternoon with him.  It was really fun, the two of them talked about every little thing about the diner, the small details they both still enjoyed.  It was quite fun to hear them comparing notes about the place, and of course about the people—Cindy and Bob both worked for both Maurice and Mike. 

I  thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and give it a Diner Hotline “Approved” rating! It is available at Amazon….
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0884482774?ie=UTF8&tag=theamericanroadside-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0884482774