Bel-Aire Diner, 1952 – 2012, Goodbye old friend!

Regular readers of Diner Hotline know that I have been following the saga of the Bel-Aire Diner of Peabody, Mass. for quite a while.  This diner was one of the closest to where I live, located about 4 miles north of Saugus on U.S. Route 1. Built by the Mountain View Diner Company (Car No. 359), it was bought brand-new in 1952 by brothers Peter & Bill Kallas, the diner remained being operated by members of the Kallas family until it closed abruptly around a half dozen years ago. Immediately after it closed it had two bright yellow banners that stated “Closed for Renovation” hanging from the front on either side of the entryway. Somehow though, I had a strong feeling that it would probably never reopen.


front of Bel-Aire Diner Breakfast Menu, circa 1980’s. From the
collection of Larry Cultrera


back of Bel-Aire Diner Breakfast Menu, circa 1980’s. From the
collection of Larry Cultrera

Prior to the diner being closed there had been reports that the Kallas family had been talking about redeveloping the site for quite some time. At one point, they were hoping to lease the property for a Hooters Restaurant but the City of Peabody was not willing to go along with those plans. Then within a few years of the diner’s closing, a large poster type sign was hung on the sign supports for the adjacent Gas Station (also owned by the Kallas’). The poster depicted a large building that would be built to house businesses related to the truck stop, including the diner and gas station. The new building was to be built around and over the diner (only the diner’s front facade was to be visible).

See…… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/notes-from-the-hotline-4-10-2010/

Before the plans were put into motion it was announced that the tenant for the restaurant portion of the new development was going to be the people who operate Red’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Salem. The new restaurant was to be called Red’s Kitchen and Tavern. About this time, I saw newly revised architectural drawings of the building and it looked different. The biggest difference was that the diner did not seem to be included anymore, an ominous sign to be sure!

See…… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/bel-aire-diner-to-become-reds-kitchen-tavern/


the earliest known postcard image of the Bel-Aire Diner. From the
collection of Larry Cultrera


The second version of a Bel-Aire Diner postcard, it had aquirred awnings and the sign colors were changed. From the collection of Larry Cultrera

Soon there after, the diner was readied to be moved out of the way for the developers to start on the project, see……. https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/notes-from-the-hotline-8-28-2010/

and…. https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/bel-aire-diner-goes-airborne/

It was also announced that the diner was For Sale, see….

https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/more-bel-aire-diner-info-from-salem-news/
The diner stayed up on cribbing in the front of the property all thru the winter of 2010-11. See…….

https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/notes-from-the-hotline-3152011/

In March of 2011 it was relocated to the extreme right corner at the back of the property. John Kallas was still hoping to sell the diner at this point.
See…… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/new-storage-spot-for-bel-aire-diner/

photo on the back cover of a vinyl E.P. by The Peter Calo Band (a local band). circa 1983. The photo was shot with the band members sitting in the corner booth of the Bel-Aire Diner. From the collection of Larry Cultrera

As I just happen to drive by the diner 1 to 2 times a day during a normal work week (Monday thru Friday), I have been able to keep an eye on the situation. I also keep informed thru Google news alerts ( for Diners) and of course rely on the unofficial network of “Diner people” for tidbits, etc. In a recent news article, John Kallas was quoted as saying that if there were no buyers for the diner come springtime, he would make the decision to have the diner scrapped. Within the last 2 weeks, it was reported that  John Kallas was quoted as stating that if anyone wanted the diner, he was willing to give it away to anyone who would arrange to remove it from the property.

This news really meant it was nearing the end for the old stainless steel diner! Steve Harwin of Diversified Diners (Cleveland, Ohio), who in my opinion is the premier diner restorationist in the world, had been apprised of the situation and contacted Kallas. After a short conversation or 2 between Kallas and Harwin, as well as a little soul searching and some number crunching, Harwin decided he could not make the commitment to save this one unfortunately.

These next few photos are pretty much my earliest images that I shot of the Bel-Aire Diner……..


January, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


January, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


January, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


September, 1982 photo (at sunset) by Larry Cultrera

This next photo was shot circa 1990 by my buddy, Steve Repucci. I wanted some photos taken of me for a Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) publication and this was one of those photos…..


man, what a difference 22 years make!

As I drove by the Bel-Aire on this past Monday after work, things looked pretty much the same, but by Tuesday afternoon it was a completely different story! Just as I was approaching the diner,  I glanced over at it and saw a dumpster as well as the left end of the diner already dismantled! I knew that this was it, the diner was pretty much history.

I was on my way home as my wife Denise and I had an appointment to meet a tradesman about some work we were planning on having done, so I knew I could not get my camera and go back for some photos. I did bring my camera to work with me the next day and was planning on getting over to the diner possibly at lunch to see if I could get some photos. I decided to see what was up and stopped at approximately 5:40 AM. I was able to pull right up almost to the fence that surrounded the diner and shine my high beam headlights on the what was left of the structure. It was demo’d back from the left end by a couple of windows as the next 3 images will show…..


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

Once I had seen how much was gone, I made the decision to get back sooner than lunch break to get more photos in daylight as I figured if I waited longer, there would not be anything left. I got back to the diner just before 9:00 AM and took the next bunch of shots…..


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


That is Doug Earp, owner of D.R. Earp Interior Demolition Co.
March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


Richard Currie of RC Recycling of Brentwood Inc. speaking with Doug Earp.
March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera


Final shot before I went back to work.
March 14, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

Before I left work for the day, I checked Facebook and saw that Gary Thomas had been by the site and the photo he posted showed the very last section of the diner (a small section of roof from the right end) left to be crunched and tossed into the dumpster. By the way, there were at least 3 dumpsters full of debris! I drove by just after 3:30 PM and there was nothing left of the old diner!

Well I can say I have had many a meal there over the last 30 years and I believe it is a shame that no one could have saved this diner so it could have possibly had another life at a different location. I am sure I will probably check out Red’s Kitchen and Tavern when they open for business in the near future, but I know it just won’t be the same!

2 Massachusetts Diners closed in the last month

I am eagerly awaiting the publication of my book…. “Classic Diners of Massachusetts”. The official publication date is October 20th, but I probably will see it sooner. It was printed around 2 weeks ago, in fact the same week it was going to press I got news through Facebook that one of the “featured diners” in my chapter on the North Shore & Northern Suburbs had closed abruptly. This was The Little Depot Diner of Peabody.


The Little Depot Diner, Railroad Ave. in Peabody, Mass.
photo by Larry Cultrera

I was bummed out as that piece of news made my book sort of dated before it hit the shelves! Oh well, at least what I wrote will be a tribute to the Miles family. I mentioned  how they were the first people to make this diner viable again after being marginal at best for quite a few years and I know they will be missed. Jim Miles was quoted as saying they hope to find a buyer to take over and reopen the diner in the near future.

Jim Miles wrote the following and posted it on the diner’s Facebook page as an explanation as well as a thank you to all their regular customers……

September 16, 2011
Dear friends and loyal customers,
Yes, it is true…The Little Depot Diner is closed for business. Four years ago Judy and I stepped into this tiny little diner and fifteen minutes later we shook hands with the seller and stepped out as the new owners of this special little place. Until that day we had no plan to ever own a diner. Our kids were as surprised as we were when we told them we bought a diner.

Then the work began and our vision of “The Little Depot Diner” became reality after countless hours of renovation. We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could enjoy a decent meal, have some fun and hopefully walk out happy. We slid the door open in February 2008 in hopes that people will come…and come you did. Over the past few years we have had the time of our lives meeting people, making friends and having fun beyond our wildest dreams. The previous owner told us on that first day; “This diner is not about the food…It’s about the people.” She was absolutely right. Thank you Joyce, for allowing my family an experience we will cherish for a lifetime.

We care about every person that ever came into the diner, but it’s our regular customers that made my decision to close so difficult. You all know who you are. No need to mention names. I want to express my heartfelt thanks for your support and for your friendship. My hat’s off to the parents of the great little kids that brought so much joy to all of us at the diner. We will miss all of you. Many people are asking why we closed so unexpectedly. About six months ago it became apparent to me that this has become more work then we can handle. I began looking for a possible buyer in hopes to find “the right people” to continue the operation without interruption. Unfortunately that has not happened. The well-being of my family is my number one concern and I recognized today as a necessary walk-away point. I apologize for the inconvenience and ask for your understanding and support. Hopefully we will find the “right people” soon and slide that door back open.

God Bless You All,
Jim Miles (The best darn waiter this side of the Mississippi if I do say so myself). To my wife Judy, you’ve done a fantastic job creating such a unique and successful business. I couldn’t have a better partner. To my daughter Jen, your tears today summed it all up. Thank you. To my son Joe, I can never thank you enough for everything you’ve done.
Thank you to our crew and everyone who helped us along the way.
I am a very proud man today.

So, if that news wasn’t enough, this weekend another “featured diner” in my book closed! This time due to a kitchen fire. I am talking about the Whately Diner Fillin’ Station which I featured in my Western Massachusetts chapter.


The Whately Diner Fillin” Station, Whately, Mass.
April, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

Apparently, a kitchen fire got out of control and the diner is expected to be closed for an indefinite period while the damage can be repaired.

Here is a news report dated October 2nd from masslive.com about the fire…

Whately Diner fire causes about $100,000 in damages

By Jeanette DeForge, The Republican

A fire that started in the kitchen of the popular Fillin’ Station Diner caused about $100,000 in damages and is expected to keep the restaurant closed for at least a month. The fire started some time between 5:30 and 5:45 a.m. Sunday, when cooks were working in the kitchen and several customers were in the dining room. There were no injures, Whately Fire Chief John Hannum said.

Manager Frederic Brown, who arrived after the fire broke out, said the blaze appeared to have started in the kitchen in an area between two grills. He said it could take several weeks to repair the damage. Hannum confirmed the cause of the fire was a cooking accident. “The extinguishing system activated but it didn’t put the fire out,” Hannum said. The diner has a chemical extinguishing system above the grills. Hannum said he was not exactly sure why it did not douse the flames.

The kitchen was mostly destroyed in the blaze and firefighters had to cut holes in the roof because it had extended above the ceiling. There was no fire damage to the dining room but there was smoke damage, Hannum said.
“When we got there it was going pretty good,” he said. Fire Departments from a number of nearby communities were called under mutual assistance partly because there are no hydrants in the area so tanker trucks were needed. It took firefighters about three hours to put out the fire and ensure it would not start again, Hannum said.

The 24-hour restaurant, also known as the Whately Diner, is on Route 5 next to Exit 24 of I-91. With a gasoline and diesel station next door and large parking area, it is a popular stop for truckers. It is owned by F.L. Roberts.

So hopefully both of these diners will only be closed temporarily and patrons will be able to enjoy some great food in both Peabody and Whately in the near future!

Notes from the Hotline, 3/15/2011

Diner 317 closes after a short run


Diner 317, Rte 125 in Plaistow, NH. Nov., 2010 photo by Larry Cultrera

 Bob Higgins has been keeping tabs on Diner 317 in Plaistow, NH and has been updating me periodically, he had mentioned to me previously that he thought the diner was struggling for business. I wrote about this diner back in Novemeber, see…… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/notes-from-the-hotline-11212010/ . Well Bob wrote me an email over the weekend to tell me that it is indeed true that the diner is now closed. Here is what Bob said in his email from Saturday…. Was in Plaistow this morning, the diner is vacant and for rent or lease. There is a sign by the road and also in the window for rent and a telephone number. I think it has been gone for maybe a month or so.

I feel badly that the operators, John Woods, his cousin Chris Woods and Justin Behling could not pull this off. I believe there were mitigating circumstances that may have led to the closing such as an on-going road construction project on Rte. 125 near the diner as well as this recession.

Progress at the former site of the Bel-Aire Diner

I have been watching the progress on the redevelopement of the former Bel-Aire Diner site in Peabody, Mass. Things were going fairly slow due to the heavy snowfall we had gotten over January and February. But in recent weeks, things have really started happening. The construction of the new building which is slated to house a few truck-stop related businesses has been moving right along with the raising of the steel framework taking place in just about 3 weeks. Here are some photos from last week showing the diner still on-site and the building rising behind it….


Bel-Aire Diner with new building, photo March 6, 2011 by Larry Cultrera


Bel-Aire Diner with new building, photo March 6, 2011 by Larry Cultrera


Bel-Aire Diner with new building, photo March 6, 2011 by Larry Cultrera


Bel-Aire Diner with new building, photo March 6, 2011 by Larry Cultrera

I have a feeling the diner is not going to get sold right away and it cannot stay where it is for too much longer. John Kallas has said that if no one buys the diner he will have it shrink wrapped and moved to storage behind the new building.