36 years ago (November 29, 1980), when I first started documenting diners with my photos, I was pretty much a “Diner Snob”. By this I mean that I wanted to ONLY take photos of “real diners”, not what I considered “fake diners” – AKA on-site built ones. They had to be the classic prefabricated railroad car styled buildings that those of us in the northeast grew up with. I certainly gravitated to the older ones built by Worcester Lunch Car Company, also Sterling diners built by J.B. Judkins and representatives from the mid-Atlantic region like Jerry O’Mahony, Fodero and DeRaffele along with the occasional Silk City and Paramount diners! At first I also for the most part resisted photographing the “newer styles” of factory-built diners that came after 1960. But as my previous post has shown I did manage to get some of the local ones here in Massachusetts.
Mary Ann’s Diner – Derry, NH
As time progressed, I modified my feelings toward the newer style of diners when I got a clearer view of the big picture and realized that these too were a huge part of diner history, I started documenting more of those and appreciated them for what they represented, although in hindsight, I wish I had not passed by a number of them in the early days without shooting a photo or two. I had also relaxed my standards by the end of the 1990s and started including diners that were built on-site or into existing commercial structures, mostly because they represented in spirit, a true diner experience enhanced by good food, service and atmosphere.
This brings me to my subject of this post – Mary Ann’s Diners of New Hampshire. Starting out in 1989 with the downtown Derry location and later expansion to include the locations in Windham (2013) and very recently Salem (2016). This little chain is now a contender along with the three (soon to be four) locations of The Red Arrow Diner and the offerings from the Common Man family of restaurants that include the Tilt’n Diner, Route 104 Diner, Airport Diner and the two Hi-Way Diners, which are helping to make the Granite State a true “diner destination”.
I had first caught wind of Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry sometime in the early 2000s, probably from seeing it on the locally produced Phantom Gourmet television show. I knew from what I had seen, that this new diner was located in an on-site commercial building. I also saw that the owners (the Andreoli family) had attempted the retro look with kitschy 1950s nostalgia decorating the interior as well as the waitresses wearing poodle skirts, etc. Now I must confess that this has historically been a “turn-off” for me personally as I firmly believe that a good diner should not have to resort to kitsch to attract customers. Whether it is in a factory-built model or an on-site “wanna be”, the restaurant only needs to have good food and service, along with a friendly staff to flourish. The atmosphere should grow and be enhanced from these qualities and the regular clientele will appreciate it and help to create the true “diner feeling” or vibe that would make that diner the “go-to” place in town!
That being said, I want to go on to say that even though all three of the Mary Ann’s Diners have this element of kitsch to their interior decor, in this case it does not hurt so much because the excellent food, service and hospitality helps to enrich the atmosphere, making it a great diner experience which more than makes up for these retro decorations that in other places might be a distraction.
According to my “Diner Log” database, I made my first visit to Mary Ann’s in Derry on March 2, 2002. I have since learned that they may have previously operated at a nearby location prior to inhabiting this store front at 28 East Broadway. This existing commercial building was decorated on the outside with a neon “Mary Ann’s” sign topped with three back-lit signs – the center one featured cartoon figure of Mary Ann holding a “Coke” bottle (the restaurant’s logo) which was flanked on the left side by a “drink” sign and on the right by a Coca Cola” sign. Above the windows on either side of the front door were two other back-lit signs, “diner” on the left and “restaurant” on the right. The only other decorations that gave a nod to the retro restaurant on the inside were the “red & white” checkerboard design under the windows and some mirror finish quilted stainless steel on either side of the front door. The two following photos show it from that visit.
At that time the interior featured (and still does) a lot of kitschy 1950s memorabilia, some formica surfaces as well as ceramic tile and stainless steel trim and panels. It already had a counter and stools along with many tables & chairs as well as booth seating. Between that first visit to Mary Ann’s and my second one, I had seen a unique transformation taking place in Amherst, NH when an existing structure that had housed two or three restaurants previously was being rehabbed to look like a post modern retro diner. It was obvious that the company doing the on-site work were well versed in building and renovating diners. The materials and design elements told me this. Also, one of the workers who was there told me the contractor was based in New Jersey. Unfortunately, I did not get the name of this contractor at that time. Suffice to say, this place then known as the Timeless Diner was going to be a showplace.
Fast forward to 2004 and my next visit to Mary Ann’s in Derry. I guess I did not recall what the exterior looked like from the first visit and failed to notice a change on the outside when I got there. Anyway, once I walked in and sat at the counter, I looked around the interior and saw some changes that immediately caught my eye. There were some elements added to the interior that I knew had not been there before. Chief among the changes that were noticeable to me was the new “cove” ceiling over the back-bar area behind the counter. I asked the waitress who was serving me (I believe it was Mary Ann Andreoli herself) if they had had work/updating done on the place and she affirmed this fact. I then asked if it was the same company that did the Timeless Diner and she said an emphatic yes! The “cove” ceiling was a dead giveaway as it was pretty identical to the one at the Timeless Diner. The next two photos were taken in anticipation of writing my New Hampshire Diners book…
Interior of Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry. August 3, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera
The changes were not only on the interior but also the front facade got a newer treatment under the windows with some vertically fluted blue enameled panels with stainless steel trim! Another change happened to the rear of the building which had previously been just a brick wall and back entrance from the rear parking lot. The contractor added on a post modern entryway along with a small dining room addition that would be used for overflow seating and private functions. That whole rear facade was covered in horizontal red enameled panels alternating with stainless stripes. There were also stainless steel panels along with some blue vertical elements and a red roof topper, effectively giving the back of the building a completely different look than the front. Now historically, I seemed to always stop there for breakfast and never managed to get really good photos when I was there early in the morning. That of course didn’t stop me from trying! The next photos were from a visit in February 24, 2008 which were not half bad considering it was not the perfect light…
Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, NH. February 24, 2008 photo by Larry Cultrera
showing the redone rear facade.
These were decent photos (acceptable but not perfect) but when I was taking photos for the book in 2013 and 2014, I was determined to get better ones. Well this happened on a trip back from the Lakes Region south of the White Mountains. We were heading home in the mid-afternoon and I detoured off the highway between 2:45 and 3:00 pm to see what the place looked like. Also, I was counting on the fact that the diner had closed for the day at 2:00 pm making it almost certain the there were no vehicles blocking the shots! When we got there I was immediately excited to see the place in perfect light and finally got the definitive photos I had been looking for!
Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, NH. April 19, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera
This one ended up on the cover of my New Hampshire Diners book!
While researching for the NH Diners book, I knew that I would be including Mary Ann’s Diner as well as Joey’s Diner (formerly the Timeless Diner) in my chapter on “On-site and Homemade Diners”! The one important (at least to me) piece of information I was missing for both of these places was the name of the company that did the retro renovations to them. I knew the current owner of Joey’s might not know and had no luck after multiple attempts in getting in touch with Bill Andreoli Sr. of Mary Ann’s (who certainly would know) either.
So, armed with a suggestion from a friend, I decided to do and end run and try to find out from a different direction. I finally contacted Sharon M. Jensen, the Department of Public Works executive secretary for the Town of Derry who was extremely helpful. Within a short amount of time I received a copy of the building permit dated October 23, 2003 that described the renovations and other work that was done to Mary Ann’s Diner. But most importantly it had the name of the contractor – Designer Diners, Inc. of Newark, NJ.
Even though Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry is only open for breakfast and lunch on the weekdays and breakfast only on the weekends, this place has been such a wild success, the Andreoli’s decided to branch out with a new location in Windham, NH which opened in 2013. The new location did get a mention in the diner listings in my NH Diner book.
Mary Ann’s Diner – Windham, NH
I finally got around to visit Mary Ann’s Diner in Windham, NH just last weekend (October 30, 2016) in anticipation of doing this blog post. This version of Mary Ann’s Diner is located in a strip mall just off Route 111 west of I-93, about a mile or so – at the corner of Cobbetts Pond Road and Lowell Road. The actual storefront is narrow and quite deceiving as to how large the diner is. There is a barber shop to the left of the diner but the shop is not as deep into the building. The diner actually makes a left turn behind the barber shop. Designer Diners again did the whole interior of this place and it looks great! I have yet to eat here but I have no doubt it is as good as the other two locations! The Windham one has the same hours as the Derry location.
Interior of Mary Ann’s Diner in Windham, NH.
October 30, 2016 photo by Larry Cultrera
Mary Ann’s Diner – Salem, NH
Earlier this year a report came out that the Andreoli’s, the owners of Mary Ann’s Diner were rehabbing a former Bickford’s Grille on Veterans Memorial Highway at the corner of Route 28 in Salem, NH to be their third location. I received word from Bob Higgins that it was getting close to opening around the beginning of August. So I made a trip up to Salem on August 14, 2016 to see what the place looked like. Even though it was a Sunday afternoon, things were hopping with workers doing various tasks to get it ready for a soft opening. The Exterior of the building received small changes. The formerly wood shingled large mansard surrounding the brick building got a metal covering with white trim and the window frames were now mirror finish stainless steel. The pediment over the front entryway already had the signage but was waiting for some decorative stainless steel panels that would arrive that week. I was invited inside to photograph the restaurant and was happy to see that Designer Diners did not disappoint, they pulled out all the stops and the place looked fantastic!
Interior of the new Mary Ann’s Diner in Salem, NH.
August 14, 2016 photo by Larry Cultrera
While I was there, one of the workers gave Bill Andreoli Jr. a call and handed me the cell phone. We spoke for a few minutes and he told me that the father and son team who make up the Designer Diner company are basically retired from the business. But because of their history with the Andreoli’s other two diner projects, they agreed to come back for this project and do the work in their spare time. The new Mary Ann’s was slated to hold their grand opening on August 18th but it was put off for a couple of days. I managed to get there on August 28, 2016 for breakfast.
Exterior of the new Mary Ann’s Diner in Salem, NH.
August 28, 2016 early morning photo by Larry Cultrera
The place has been getting huge crowds and is already very popular. This location is open longer hours than the other two and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner! We tried to get there for lunch on a Sunday (September 4th) but found out after a 30 minute wait that the full lunch menu is not served until 2:00 pm on weekends. So hopefully sometime in the near future we can check out the full lunchtime menu.
Exterior of the new Mary Ann’s Diner in Salem, NH.
September 4, 2016 early afternoon photo by Larry Cultrera