Pet peeve time – It truly has always bothered me when people use the term “Greasy Spoon” or “railroad car” in relation to writing about diners….

1st pet peeve – Writers and or reporters referring to Diners as Greasy Spoons

greasy-spoon

Back on March 25, 2020, Jeremy Ebersole – a current Vice President of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) who makes frequent contributions/posts to the SCA Facebook page posted a photo album to that page entitled “Greasy Spoons from sea to shining sea”. Now I had no problem with the photos per se, but I have always bristled at the term “Greasy Spoon”. In fact being a member of the SCA myself since 1981, I was somewhat shocked to see the term used by someone affiliated with the world’s premier organization that deals with documenting and preserving the businesses and sociological aspects of the American Roadside. Especially since the origins of this blog came out of the first ever regular column (Diner Hotline) that was featured in SCA publications.

Because I personally believe the use of this term in regards to Diners is derogatory… shortly after reading the post by Jeremy Eborsole, I decided to hold an informal poll and ask a few people I know and respect, what their feelings are on the use of the term “Greasy Spoon” in reference to diners?

Glenn Wells, diner aficionado, Roadsidefans.com

Glenn-Wells

Glenn Wells: I agree. I think the term is used more by people who dislike diners to put them down, rather than embraced by people who like diners. As you saw I was VERY surprised to see SCA use that term the way they did Also found something I wrote around 2001 on my web site (not updated for a long time) under Diner FAQs: Some people refer to a diner as a “hash house” or a “greasy spoon.” Does this mean the food is bad? Let’s be honest for a minute. If every diner from the beginning of time had been spotlessly clean and served delicious food, such terms never would have entered the vocabulary. Some diners DO serve food deserving of the epithets that some people hurl at ALL diners. But diners are hardly alone in serving sub-par food. Even some very high priced restaurants can turn out some meals that are less than satisfactory. Then, of course, there are the fast food chains, where the fare is more consistent from location to location, but that does not mean that it is good.

Richard J.S. Gutman, preeminent Diner Scholar

Dick-Gutman-2

Richard J.S. Gutman: I hate the phrase! Glad you are doing this. I can’t believe that the SCA used it recently…several times.

Ron Dylewski, diner aficionado, writer,
designer, commercial director and editor

Ron-Dylewski

Ron Dylewski: We often hear people refer to classic diners as “greasy spoons.” To many this might seem like an innocuous term, even a term of endearment. It is perhaps a more visual nickname than simply, diner. It can appear more evocative, denoting a certain je ne sais quoi or an ineffable quality that can’t be captured by simply saying “diner”. But none of that matters. The phrase is pejorative and should be stricken from any journalistic or scholarly writing, unless the phrase is called out for what it is; a slur. Similar names, such as grease pit, hash house and beanery are similarly used to denigrate diners. Writers are often encouraged to spice up their writing by using these terms. It just seems to add flavor to their prose, but in this case the flavor is all off. It actually distracts from the reality of what diners are and were. Now, don’t get me wrong. Not every diner is spic and span and not every one serves wonderful home-cooked meals. But that’s a decisionthat a writer would have to make on a case-by-case basis, not as a blanket statement about all diners.

Bill Katsifis, owner/operator of the East Shore Diner, Harrisburg, PA

Bill-Katsifis

East-Shore-Diner-1
East Shore Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera, January 1, 1985

Bill Katsifis, East Shore Diner: I do think the term greasy spoon is a degrading adjective. Makes it feel dirty. Yes, Greasy spoon, makes a diner/restaurant sound like a less than desirable place to eat. Thanks for the diner work you do….

Alexis Lekkas, owner/operator of Alexis Diner, Troy, NY

Alexis-photo

Alexis1
Alexis Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera, August 8, 2002

Alexis Lekkas, Alexis Diner: I agree with you. Only greasy spoon diners consider that a compliment and there are not many of them. By the way I am still in business even with all the Covid-19 issues…

Alex Panko, former owner of Peter Pank Diner

LAC_Alex-Panko_Les-Cooper
Larry Cultrera, Alex Panko and Les Cooper. Alex Panko is
the former owner of the Peter Pank Diner, Sayersville, NJ

Peter-Pank-Diner
Peter Pank Diner, photo courtesy of Alex Panko

Alex Panko, former owner of Peter Pank Diner: Hey Larry I am with, you, greasy spoon is derogatory. But I would always make a joke and made the people who referred to the diner in that way look stupid if they said that to me. LOL !!!!

Maria Pagelos Wall, co-owner of the Village Diner, Milford, PA

Maria-Wall

Village-Diner-2
Village Diner, photo from Larry Cultrera, November 27, 1981

Maria Pagelos Wall, Village Diner: I don’t like it. To me, it makes it sound like a place is dirty with low quality food.

Michael Engle, diner aficionado/author

Mike-Engle

Michael Engle: I think for anyone who has put the time, passion, energy, and back breaking labor into running their diner or restaurant, that is the last thing they want to hear.  There are a number of people who are so far removed from the food industry. Many of these same people, especially the ones who find a diner “cute,” like they would a puppy, these are the people who are perfectly fine with the term.  They don’t mean any harm by the term.  And these people are validated by the few restaurant owners who adore the term.

Brian Butko, diner aficionado/author

Brian-Butko

Brian Butko: I agree, we’ve always avoided that term. I recall old diner industry mags discussing the term, and always talking about how diners should help themselves by paying attention to details, paving parking lots, lifting the industry, acting like “real restaurants,” that could be a fun angle.

Jeremy Ebersole, current Vice President of
the Society for Commercial Archeology

Jeremy-Ebersole

Jeremy Ebersole: Thanks so much for letting me know, Larry. I certainly didn’t mean to offend. I’ve used the term my whole life and never thought of it as derogatory, and that photo album has been up for years without any negative feedback. However, I certainly do not want to offend or imply that the SCA does not hold diners in the highest esteem. I love diners with every fiber of my being and just had no idea that term was contentious. I’ve been going back through all the old SCA publications and reading them. They’re just so great, and I always really enjoy your column! Please let me know when your blog is published and I will make sure we promote it on the SCA Facebook page!
P.S.: Jeremy changed the title of the post to “Awesome eateries from sea to shining sea”.

2nd pet peeve – Writers and or reporters mentioning railroad cars/trolley cars when writing about Diners

Another thing happened recently which tends to cause me to freak out. In fact it is something that I have been calling out newspaper reporters on for the better part of 40 years. Around the beginning of June, 2020, reports came out of Maine about the resurrection of the Farmington Diner of Farmington, Maine.

A number of years ago (2008), Rachel Jackson decided to embark on a risky adventure and save the Farmington Diner when the land it was on was sold to a national pharmacy chain. She had the diner transported to property she owned a few miles away where it has sat in storage since. Within the last couple of years, Ms. Jackson actually bought another old diner that had operated in Pennsylvania and Connecticut under various names. Her plan was to use parts of each to restore  (the one out of Connecticut) and return it to operation under the Farmington Diner name.

The reporter , Donna M. Perry of the Sun Journal wrote the first recent report I read on the Farmington Diner, kept referring to both diners as railroad cars. I immediately sent off an email to this reporter:

 I just read the piece you wrote on the Farmington Diner. Thanks for the update as I was wondering what was happening up there. I write a blog on diners (www.dinerhotline.com) and have written 2 books for The History Press, (Classic Diners of Massachusetts, 2011) (New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries, 2014). I have been conducting a personal research project on diners since 1980. I have photographed approximately 870 plus diners since November 29th of that year. I just want to point out that writers/journalists like yourself have periodically perpetuated a common misconception that diners are rail cars or trolleys. That is far from accurate. Diners are custom built buildings, usually built by a Diner manufacturer and shipped to a specific (or more than one) location. The diners in question are both Mountain View Diners, manufactured in Singac, New Jersey.

Donna Perry responded to my email and told me she had used railcar diner in her piece because Rachel Jackson thought that it was a commonly used generic term. Perry went on to say that she would amend her online piece to just say diner.

The second report I read was from Maureen Milliken of Maine Business News (www.mainebiz.biz) and I was very happy to see that Ms. Milliken, a seasoned reporter had done her homework. Her piece was well researched and mentioned Mountain View Diners. Not only that, she found a blog post I wrote from 2010 on The Silver Diner of Waterbury CT being closed and in jeopardy, (this became the second diner rescued by Rachel Jackson). The link to my bog post is here… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/tag/the-new-lafayette-diner/
So I immediately wrote Maureen Milliken and thanked her for referring to my blog as well as doing her diligent research.

Just to give a quick primer, here are exterior and interior views of an old Dining Car from the Boston & Maine Railroad…

B&M-RR-Dining-Car-extB&M-RR-Dining-Car-int

That being said, let me say that there were and are still examples of diners that had been created from converted train and trolley cars. Here are a few examples…

Leona-Hillier's-Diner
an old Postcard of Leona Hillier’s Dinette from my collection.
This is a converted railroad car…

The-Club-Car-Restaurant-6
The Club Car Restaurant, a converted railroad car,
located in Nantucket, Massachusetts

Sisson's-Diner-16
exterior view of Sisson’s Diner, a converted trolley located
in South Middleboro, Massachusetts

Sisson's-Diner-12
interior view of Sisson’s Diner, a converted trolley located
in South Middleboro, Massachusetts

Bill-Gates'-Diner-10
exterior view of Bill Gates’ Diner, a converted trolley formerly
located in Bolton Landing, New York

Bill-Gates'-Diner-11
interior view of Bill Gates’ Diner, a converted trolley formerly
located in Bolton Landing, New York

The following photos are examples of factory-built diners that had the railroad car resemblance in their details…

Chadwick-Square-Diner-4
Chadwick Square Diner, Worcester, Massachusetts

The-Sparky-Diner-2
The Sparky Diner, formerly of Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Capitol-3_6-5-11
The Capitol Diner, Lynn, Massachusetts

Casey's-Diner-15
Casey’s Diner, Natick, Massachusetts (looking like a caboose)

New Diners taking shape at Hookset, NH Welcome Centers – I-93, North & South

Service-area_Hi-Way-Diner-sign1a
a portion of the sign at the construction site of the Northbound Welcome Center
in Hooksett, NH. If you look closely, you can see a rendering of the diner which
actually looks nothing like what they are building! In fact, it looks more like the
Route 104 Diner in New Hampton, NH! (see below)

Route-104-Diner-2
The Route 104 Diner in New Hampton is also operated by The Common Man
family of restaurants. The rendering above of the Hooksett Welcome Center looks
like this diner.

Not long after I had signed the contract to write the soon-to-be-published book – New Hampshire Diners: Classic Granite State Eateries (approximately a year ago) I had seen a press release from the Granite State announcing the total redesign and construction of the new Hooksett Welcome Centers (north & southbound) located across from each other on Interstate 93 (formerly known as the Hooksett Rest Areas). Located just north of the one and only Toll booths on this road, the rest areas originally housed rest rooms and possibly vending machines along with the State Liquor Stores. The press release below spells out what the new Welcome Centers will feature which is worlds away from what had been previously there. The thing that caught my eye was the fact that there would be on-site built diners incorporated into the new development. These diners (both referred to as the Hi-Way Diner) would be operated by Alex Ray’s company, The Common Man family of restaurants!  Check out the Official Press Release below…

For Immediate Release
October 24, 2013

Construction Begins on Redeveloping Hooksett Welcome Centers on Interstate 93
Groundbreaking Kicks Off Innovative Public-Private Project With The Common Man Restaurants

CONCORD – Calling it an innovative public-private partnership, Governor Maggie Hassan helped kick off construction work today on a major upgrade of the Hooksett Welcome Centers on Interstate 93 that will provide New Hampshire residents and visitors a wide range of new and improved services, including multiple dining options, an interactive visitors center, a NH Liquor and Wine Outlet store, a country store, a bank, and fueling stations.

The Governor led the groundbreaking for the project that brings together the State of New Hampshire and The Common Man family of restaurants to provide new, high-quality facilities replacing the existing northbound and southbound Welcome Centers.

“The Hooksett Welcome Centers project is an innovative public-private partnership that will help boost our economy and support our tourism industry by providing a high-quality welcome for all visitors to the Granite State,” Governor Hassan said. “With the project estimated to create over 130 long-term jobs, the new Welcome Centers will help spur economic growth and offer a uniquely New Hampshire experience that showcases what makes our state special.”

Under a 35-year ground lease with the State of New Hampshire, The Common Man family of restaurants is funding the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of both service areas, with the exception of the NH Liquor and Wine Outlet stores, which will be funded and operated by the NH Liquor Commission.

“This is a unique and innovative project involving all New Hampshire-based companies from the owner/operator, bank, architects, construction, and other partners,” said Alex Ray, owner and founder of The Common Man family of restaurants in New Hampshire.  “As a long-time resident and business owner in New Hampshire, I’m really looking forward to a fresh statement for visitors and residents at these welcome centers and service areas,” Ray said.

The redevelopment project will construct new buildings on both sides of the highway that will feature mill-building architectural style and house all Common Man food options in a food court setting, including a 1950s style diner, an Italian Farmhouse restaurant, a deli, and a breakfast shop.  A 24-hour convenience store, two new NH State Liquor & Wine Outlet stores, a bank branch, and an interactive and informative visitors center are also part of the redevelopment plan.  Irving Oil fueling stations for passenger vehicles will be added at each location, and a test run of plug-in stations for electric vehicles will launch at the new facilities.  When completed, the project will bring an estimated 137 new full-time jobs to the area.

“The Welcome Centers are often the first impression that visitors have of the state and this new facility will put our best foot forward. Providing modern and convenient facilities will help enhance our visitors’ experience”, said New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeffrey Rose.  “With tourism being the second-largest industry in the state, this will ensure that visitors have a positive impression of New Hampshire.”

The new 20,000-square-foot NH Liquor and Wine Outlet stores will more than double the size of the existing stores.

“These will be model Welcome Centers for New Hampshire,” said New Hampshire Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement.  “It’s a great project for the Turnpike System, the DOT, the NH Liquor Commission, and the State.  The new Welcome Centers will be a “must stop” for commuters, tourists, and liquor store patrons.”

“These two new high-profile NH Liquor and Wine Outlet mega stores will benefit traveling guests and residents alike,” said NH Liquor Commission (NHLC) Chairman Joseph Mollica.  “Customers will experience the retail future of the NHLC thanks to numerous design improvements resulting in a more enjoyable shopping experience.   Spirit selections will increase by 50 percent and wine offerings will increase 75 percent, introducing customers to the hottest new brands and more exclusively allocated items.  All these factors lead us to project up to $6 million in sales increases between the two locations.”

In Fiscal Year 2013, sales at the I-93 NH Liquor and Wine Outlet stores at the Hooksett Welcome Centers were approximately $34.5 million.

“This development will set a new standard for the traveling public and shows our commitment to expand our retail network in New England with high quality destinations for travelers,” says Paul Browning, President & CEO of Irving Oil. “Irving Oil has a long tradition of providing excellent customer service and high-quality products to motorists; working with our partners, we’re delighted we will soon have the opportunity to enhance our service to both the local community and drivers on Interstate 93.”

Both Hooksett Welcome Centers, as well as the NH Liquor and Wine Outlet stores, will remain open throughout the construction project.  The new Hooksett Welcome/Service Centers are scheduled to be completed in April 2015.

For construction updates, site plans and downloadable renderings and photos, please visit http://www.nh.gov/dot/org/operations/turnpikes/ort/hooksett15970.htm.

I had spoken with Alex Ray of The Common Man family of restaurants when doing some research for the NH Diner book. I mentioned about the diners he had already been operating… the Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, the Route 104 Diner in New Hampton and the Airport Diner in Manchester. He was involved with the Tilt’n from the beginning when he bought and moved it in the late 1980s from its last operating location in Salisbury, Massachusetts. He had it in storage for a couple of years before finding a new operating location in Tilton. He basically set it up to be the front of the new, current restaurant. The Route 104 Diner had already been operating for a number of years as Bobby’s Girl Diner prior to his buying it, so the only change to that was a new parapet above the windows. Of the 3 diners, the Airport was the only one he had built from the ground up. It is attached to the Holiday Inn Express and certainly looks like a diner, inside and out. Ray told me he much preferred building from scratch instead of using an old classic diner as he did not have to deal with retrofitting an old building to conform to codes.

The last time I was up this way sometime in the Spring, both the Northbound and Southbound Welcome Centers were under construction but not far enough along to note where the diners would be located. But in recent weeks I had reports from Patty Desmond, a co-worker of mine as well as my sister Linda Artz who had noticed the facade of the diners taking shape. In fact Patty took a shot of the northbound location just over a week ago. I knew I would also be stopping by the locations to and from a family get-together in Laconia on Labor Day Weekend so I would also be taking some initial shots as well. Because of Patty’s photo I knew the site was surrounded by construction fences which would more than likely prohibit me from getting decent shots, and this was certainly the case as evidenced by the following photos.

Hi-Way-Diner-Northbound-1
The exterior of the Hi-Way Diner at the Northbound Welcome Center on I-93
in Hooksett, NH. August 31, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hi-Way-Diner-Northbound-2a
The exterior of the Hi-Way Diner at the Northbound Welcome Center on I-93
in Hooksett, NH. August 31, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hi-Way-Diner-Southbound-1
The exterior of the Hi-Way Diner at the Southbound Welcome Center on I-93
in Hooksett, NH. August 31, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hi-Way-Diner-Southbound-2
The exterior of the Hi-Way Diner at the Southbound Welcome Center on I-93
in Hooksett, NH. August 31, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Southbound side is not quite as far along as the the Northbound side, although as you can see, the buildings are mirror images across the highway from each other. As mentioned above, the 2 diners do not resemble the artist’s rendering on the sign at both construction sites but are more reminiscent of the Airport Diner in Manchester, which seem more in line to what I would have thought! The next photo shows the Airport Diner in Manchester, where you can see the similarities.

Airport-Diner-2
The Airport Diner at the Holiday Inn Express at 2280 Brown Avenue in Manchester.
April 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, NH is the other diner operated by The Common Man family of restaurants…

Tilt'n-Diner-5
The Tilt’n Diner is a 1950 vintage Jerry O’Mahony Diner that previously operated
in Waltham, Mass. (1950-1970) and Salisbury, Mass. (1970-1986).

Ironically, my old friend Ron Dylewski stopped to photograph the Hi-Way Diner on the northbound side on his way to Meredith, NH the very same day I was there (this past Sunday) and sent a message as well as his own photo. Looks like he avoided getting the construction fence in the shot by putting his camera thru the small gap between sections. If I had used my smaller Nikon digital camera instead of the larger Pentax DSLR, I possibly could have got a shot like that as well!

hooksstt_faux_diner
Ron Dylewski’s photo from this past Sunday of the Hi-Way Diner in Hooksett, NH

By the amount of work left to be done on the project, I would not expect to see these open before the end of the year, but who knows… I could be surprised! And by the way, they are mentioned breifly in the new book in Chapter 4 – the On-Site/Homemade Diners section under the Airport Diner. Thanks to Ron Dylewski for sending along the the photo as well as the link about the announcement from last October, it saved me a little time!

Bel-Aire Diner goes “Aire” borne……


Bel-Aire Diner right after being slid down the beams into the parking lot
by Gary Sylvester’s Building Movers and Excavators yesterday.

As I have mentioned in the previous recent Bel-Aire Diner posts, I drive by the diner on U.S. Rte. 1 usually twice a day (Monday thru Friday), to and from work. Ironically Wednesday was one day I did not drive by in the afternoon as I had errands to do in Medford and Somerville and it was quicker for me to bypass Rte. 1 south and instead take I-95 to I-93 to get to my destinations.


rear view of the diner as I approached from where I parked my car.

Wednesday morning the diner was still the way it has been since the early 1950’s although during the previous 3 weeks, crews had been excavating the parking lot behind and to the right of the diner as well as dismantling the service bays of the gas station next door in anticipation of the redevelopment of the site.


diner now in parking lot next to the tall roadside sign

So driving north on Thursday morning at 5:50 am, I looked over at the diner and was surprised to notice the cinder block kitchen addition had been torn down the day before! Well Thursday afternoon I also had to be somewhere but had enough time to drive by the site and noticed the diner was newly jacked up off the foundation and the movers had beams under the diner ready for rolling the building forward into the parking lot.


opposite view of the diner next to sign

I immediately got on the horn and called Dick Gutman, Steve Repucci, Randy Garbin, Beth Lennon and Ron Dylewski to alert them that the diner was in fact being moved (Diner Hotline, Diner Hotline!). I continued on to my appointment and as soon as I was done with that, I went home and got my camera and drove back to the diner.


rear view from right side with workman checking under the diner

I shot all these photos and met Gary Sylvester whose company was contracted to move the diner. He told me that he thought the diner might be moving to Lowell, Mass. but was not really sure. My take on this is that the diner will be temporarily stored in the front parking lot prior to being transported to parts unknown.


looking at the broken foundation and cellar hole


another view from right hand side with sign


walking back to the car, I turned and took this shot

Steve Heller on the Empire Diner closing

I wrote about the changes coming to New York City’s famed Empire Diner back in a November 14, 2009 post (see… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2009/11/14/notes-from-the-hotline-11-14-09/ ) . Well the Empire served its last meal on Saturday May 15th. I really hope the new operators who are planning to change the name of the place do not destroy the classic looks and feel of this iconic diner. I was talking with my pal John Baeder yesterday and the Empire was brought up in the conversation.

John’s paintings of the Empire helped to make this diner into the icon it became and he sent along this piece written by his good friend Steve Heller (reprinted from May 17, 2010, printmag.com)…..


John Baeder’s first painting of the Empire Diner (courtesy, John Baeder)

The Empire Diner, a landmark of Manhattan’s Chelsea district (which is now home to gentrified art galleries, restaurants, clubs and parks) is no more. On Saturday, the famed eatery immortalized by John Baeder in the paintings above and below (top), closed its counter, forced out by rising commercial rents and rapacious commercial landlords. It has gone the way of another famed NYC heartburn heaven, The Second Avenue Deli, which although reestablished in a new locale, just isn’t the same. Loosing this establishment is truly a crying shame. So, let’s take a moment to bid adieu to and reflect on another victim of excessively rising costs in an age of wage freezes and unemployment.


John Baeder did this painting a few years later from an earlier image of the Empire Diner prior to it becoming one of the first upscale diners.
(courtesy, John Baeder)


Photo courtesy of printmag.com


Photo courtesy of printmag.com


Photo courtesy of printmag.com


Photo courtesy of printmag.com

Audio Tribute to the Empire Diner being closed

Ron Dylewski has put together a great audio tribute on the closing of the Empire Diner. The story is a co-production of Ron’s  TheAmericanRoadside.com and our friends at the terrific food-oriented site, CropToCuisine.org. (Thanks to Glenn Wells of Roadside Fans for the heads-up to the link)……

http://www.croptocuisine.org/2010/05/19/the-end-of-an-empire/
(To play the report, click “Listen” and then click the arrow to the left of the title “The end of an Empire by Ron Dylewski”)

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