Massachusetts outlet of 5 & Diner Chain closes

5-&-Diner-3a
The 5 & Diner in Lincoln Plaza, Worcester, Mass.
2007 photo by Larry Cultrera

Sorry to hear that the first and only Massachusetts location of the 5 & Diner chain has closed within the last 2 weeks. The diner was opened in 2006 at a location in Lincoln Plaza in Worcester by Bob & Laurie Watson, who ended up buying the whole chain within a couple of years of the opening from Ken Higginbotham. The 5 & Diner chain of restaurants were started in 1989 by Higginbotham in Phoenix, Arizona. I wrote about this chain after meeting with Bob & Laurie back in April, see….. https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/introducing-bob-laurie-watson-owners-of-5-diner-chain-of-restaurants/

A week ago I got a message from Barry Henley asking if I had heard about the closing of Lou-Roc’s Diner in Worcester. I told him I had not and got a message back from him saying he made a call to Lou-Roc’s and they answered the phone saying they were open for business. Well as the story continues, I got a call from my brother Rick who works for a company that supplies knives/cutlery to restaurants throughout the area and he heard from the driver who takes care of the route around central Massachusetts that the 5 & Diner closed.

I sent a message to my friend Shawn Fallon who was the General Manager at the 5 & Diner and he said things seemed to be going good… he received great marks in his 1-year review and within weeks was let go and a short time later the doors were closed. This news is not good especially this close to the holidays for Shawn who has a young family to support as well as  for all the other people who worked there.

It is always sad when a diner closes, be it a regular mom & pop family-run diner or an outlet of a national chain. I have even recently read articles mentioning that the Watson’s are still trying to expand the chain here on the east coast but I do recall Bob telling me that the Worcester location which was not highly visible from the street might not have been the best location.

Advertisements

Introducing Bob & Laurie Watson, owners of the 5 & Diner chain of restaurants

Back in December I did a little blurb in a “Notes from the Hotline” about the 5 & Diner chain of “Diner concept” restaurants and how the company was poised for a major expansion, see….
https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/notes-from-the-hotline-12-26-2011/. When I posted that I noticed how there was a fairly new Massachusetts connection to this chain of restaurants that was started in 1989 by Ken Higginbotham in Phoenix, Arizona. The connection happened to be the fact that the people who bought the only New England franchise back in 2006 (and opened it in Worcester, Mass.) were Bob & Laurie Watson.


image courtesy of 5 & Diner

When the Watsons bought the franchise they had also obtained the right of first refusal in the event that Higginbotham ever decided to sell the chain. Well as fate would have it, within  2 years of the opening of the Worcester 5 & Diner, Higginbotham had some health problems and needed to cut back, so he made the painful decision to sell. On August 1, 2008, the Watsons bought the Franchise Rights and Trade Name “5 & Diner”.


5 & Diner, Lincoln St., Worcester, Mass. photo by Larry Cultrera

After doing a little research for the previous post in December, I got in touch with the new owner, Bob Watson and introduced myself. We had a couple of conversations during which I mentioned about this blog as well as my book, “Classic Diners of Massachusetts” among other things.


interior of Worcester 5 & Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera

Another thing that came up during one of the conversations was the fact that I was born and raised in Medford and graduated from high school (Medford Voc-Tech) in 1971. Bob told me his wife Laurie also graduated from Medford High in 1971! This surprised me and later that day I went home and checked out the yearbook. Laurie’s maiden name started with a “D” so when I looked, I saw that her graduation photo was 2 spots directly below mine on the same page! What a small world!


5 & Diner, Lincoln St., Worcester, Mass. photo by Larry Cultrera

We arranged to meet March 25, 2012 out in Worcester where the Watsons had reserved one of the “round booths” that are situated in the front corners of the diner. Denise and I met Bob and Laurie and we all enjoyed a great lunch at the 5 & Diner (although I think Laurie actually had a “breakfast entrée”). We talked about diners, and how they got into buying a franchise and of course ultimately the whole chain. They gave me an informational brochure that outlines all the affiliated companies (besides 5 & Diner) that come under their corporate umbrella known as LPM Holding Company. This company employs more than 700 people in 9 states, including Bob & Laurie’s sons, Patrick and Mike.


interior of Worcester 5 & Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera

The Watsons come to this venture (5 & Diner) with a wealth of experience as both of them are listed as co-chairmen and CEO’s of the company with roots that go back to the late 1970’s when they started by purchasing Epicurean Feast, a commercial food service contractor. According to their info, Epicurean Feast is the largest privately held food service firm in New England as well as 35th largest in the country!


interior of Worcester 5 & Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera

Another company that comes under the LPM “umbrella” is  “Sebastians”. Sebastians is a local, family owned business started in 1994 that serves the freshest, finest American and International fare to the Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts communities.  These cafés in Boston and Cambridge serve health conscious menus for breakfast, coffee, and lunch, while providing drop-off corporate catering to businesses, and special event catering to the Commonwealth. The Watsons realized a long-held dream of owning a restaurant in Boston when they purchased this business in 2010. There currently are 6 locations for Sebastians including 100 Summer St.,  157 Seaport Blvd., One Devonshire Place, 126 High St., and 251 Massachusetts Ave. in Boston as well as 7 Cambridge Center in Cambridge.


Laurie and Bob Watson outside the 5 & Diner in Worcester, Mass.
photo by Larry Cultrera

According to the informational brochure I have, other LPM companies include Encore Party Rentals, Seasonal Specialties Food Services, and Currier & Chives Catering. Bob & Laurie also started the LPM Charitable Foundation. This Foundation’s primary focus will be on the prudent investment of available resources in programs in the areas of education, environment, health and human services, community and civic development, and the arts. Additional consideration will be given in certain instances to grants to organizations outside these categories.

To get back to 5 & Diner, when the Watsons first opened their franchise in Worcester, there were 15 units operating. When they had acquired the company from Higginbotham, the number of locations had dropped to 12 (in 5 states) the Watsons had plans to possibly expand the chain right away. Unfortunately, franchise-based financing disappeared with the recession, which effectively delayed those plans. Now, the Watsons think the time is right and have developed a new prototype that includes less square footage than the “free-standing” units they currently have. This new prototype will be what Watson terms “in-line eateries, basically built into existing buildings.


artist’s rendering of the exterior of the 2011 “5 & Diner prototype”
Courtesy of 5 & Diner

Watson states, this in-line model will reduce construction costs from about $1.3 million to $450,000 – $650, 000. The diners will be smaller, 3,000 sq. ft. as opposed to 4,200 sq. ft. with 92 seats instead of 112.


artist’s rendering of the interior of the 2011 “5 & Diner prototype”
Courtesy of 5 & Diner

The Watsons have partnered with Northboro Builders, Inc. to help develop the future franchise locations as well as Cassidy Turley, a leading commercial real estate services provider, who will ensure proper execution of site search and real estate processes. They also have enlisted the Buxton Company, a large retail research firm to help identify strong markets for potential franchisees.

Some of the markets that the Watsons have earmarked for future franchises include New Jersey (where they hope to open 8 locations), Connecticut (5 locations) as well as other locations in Pennsylvania, New York and even Florida.

As mentioned above, 5 & Diner’s are currently operating at 12 locations, 2 are owned outright by the Watsons,  the Worcester diner and the original one located at 5220 N. 16th Street in Phoenix, AZ. All remaining 5 & Diner locations are franchised including the ones in Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale (and 3 others in Phoenix) Arizona, as well as ones in Orlando, FL, Pleasant Hill, IA and Tulsa, OK. There is also a 5 & Diner Deluxe which I believe is not free-standing in Surpise, AZ.

For more info on LPM Holding Company check out  these links ….
www.lpmhci.com, www.5anddiner.com, www.epicureanfeast.com, www.currierchives.comwww.encorepartyrentals.com , www.sebastians.com, and  www.lpmcharity.org

April Vacation, 2011 – Part 3

Part 3 of my April Vacation, 2011 begins on Monday morning (4-18-11) before sunrise. I left Albany by way of U.S. Rte. 20 heading east. I drove into Pittsfield, Mass. and decided to see if Adrien’s Diner might be open. It was around 5:30 am and there was no one around. The operating hours were not posted so I was not sure if they were even opening (it was Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday, although not everyone gets it off). I decided not to hang around and coninued east toward the town of Lee. Once I got there, I saw that Joe’s Diner was open. I figured it was about time I checked it out as it is a somewhat famous place. Joe’s is not a factory-built diner but a small storefront type diner. It is famous for being the place where Norman Rockwell set his well known iconic 1958 painting, “The Runaway”.


The Runaway, a painting by Norman Rockwell


Joe’s Diner, U.S. Rte. 20, Lee, Mass. April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Joe’s Diner, U.S. Rte. 20, Lee, Mass. April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

I had a pretty decent breakfast at Joe’s Diner and then got back on the road, continuing east on Route 20. As I mentioned in Part 1, I needed to get to 5 diners in the western part of Massachusetts on my way home from Albany for info and photos for my “Classic Diners of Massachusetts” book. My next destination was the Route 66 Diner on Bay Street in Springfield and it had been a while since I was last there. I did not need exterior photos of this diner as I figured the last ones I shot a few years ago were good. Unfortunately, owner Don Roy was not there, I was told he was in Florida. So I obtained a takeout menu and took 2 interior photos. Here is one of them below…….


Interior of Route 66 Diner, Springfield, Mass.
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

I left Springfield and jumped on I-91 northbound to get up to Northampton. Once I got there I headed back west on Route 9 to visit the Miss Florence Diner. I had not been to the Miss Flo since the Alexander family sold it 10 years ago. The place looked good and I got some new photos (exterior and interior). They had no takeout menus as they were actually having new ones being printed. I started taking notes from their extensive menu and thought this might take all day, and then one of the waitresses told me that the menu was pretty much all on their website. I got the name of the owner who was not there, (John Zantouliadis) and called him later in the week for some background. It seems he is not the person who bought the diner from the Alexanders, he is actually the second owner after them. (He also told me the takeout menu came in from the printers the day before) Anyway, here are some shots….


Miss Florence Diner. April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Miss Florence Diner. April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior of Miss Florence Diner. April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

I went back to Northampton but continued past the center of town toward the Route 9 Diner in Hadley a few miles to the east.  This is one of the newer diners in Massachusetts. It came to town as the Sit Down Diner, brand new from Kullman Industries, but the original owner went out of business and the diner was bought back by Kullman at auction and they turned around and found new operators, Chris Karabetsos and Archie Sideris who have been very successful with the business in the intervening years.


Route 9 Diner, Hadley, Mass. April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Route 9 Diner, Hadley, Mass.
April 18, 2011 interior photo by Larry Cultrera


Route 9 Diner, Hadley, Mass.
April 18, 2011 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

I headed back to Northampton and drove north on Route 5 (King Street) to the Bluebonnet Diner. Jim Greco was given a heads-up by his son Tony that I was coming. Jim was very helpful and it is obvious he takes pride in the business that his dad and uncle started in 1950.


Bluebonnet Diner, Northampton, Mass.
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Bluebonnet Diner, Northampton, Mass.
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Bluebonnet Diner, Northampton, Mass.
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior of the Bluebonnet Diner, Northampton, Mass.
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Bluebonnet has been added onto over the years and features a cocktail lounge as well as a huge function facility. Through all this, the diner section itself has pretty much stayed original with the exception of some updated windows and light fixtures. The diner is popular with regular customers as well as the out of town transient crowd that frequent it.

From Northampton I jumped back on I-91 to get up to Whately where the Whately Diner Fillin’ Station was awaiting me. This diner is a true 24 hour “truck stop diner” catering to truckers at Exit 24 off I-91. This is a “Princess” model built by Kullman Diners circa 1960 and was originally operated as the Princess Diner in Chicopee, Mass. It was bought in the early 1970’s by F.L. Roberts, a local company that has a chain of convenience stores, car washes and gas stations in the area. They moved the diner from Chicopee to Whately and ran it as the Maverick Diner for a time prior to renaming it to its current name.


Whately Diner Fillin’ Station, Whately, Mass.
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Whately Diner Fillin’ Station, Whately, Mass.
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior – Whately Diner Fillin’ Station, Whately, Mass.
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

After Whately, I scooted back home by I-91 and Route 2. I was out again the next morning and visited Buddy’s Diner in Somerville. I used to be a semi-regular here but have not visited it in a while. This is a 1929 vintage Worcester Lunch Car that has been at this location since the early 1950’s. Currently owned by Nicole Bairos, it is primarily operated by her cousins Kim Bairos & Niko Makrigiannis as well as short order cook extraordinaire,  Jose Ramirez.


Buddy’s Diner, Somerville, Mass. April 19, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior – Buddy’s Diner, Somerville, Mass.
L-R behind the counter, Jose Ramirez and Niko Makrigiannis
April 19, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

The next short roadtrip was out to Worcester on Thursday for more photos and info for the book. This time, Denise went with me. First stop was Blanchard’s 101 Diner. I have written extensively about this diner in a few previous posts since they opened over 3 years ago, (wow, it’s that long?). It was great to see Chris Blanchard. I got some new shots, inside and out plus a copy of their menu.


Blanchard’s 101 Diner, Worcester, Mass.
April 21, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior – Blanchard’s 101 Diner, Worcester, Mass.
April 21, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

Next stop was a few miles to the west on Route 9 – to Spencer, Mass. and a visit to Charlie’s Diner Bar & Grill. Charlie’s was moved from its long-time operating location on Plantation St. in Worcester a number of years ago. It stayed in storage for a couple of years before it found a home in Spencer. Within the last 2 years they added on to the existing structure with a bar & grill to expand the operating hours. From what a very tired Steve Turner told me, the new addition to the business has been a success.


Charlie’s Diner Bar & Grill, Spencer, Mass. The section with the dormers to the right is the Bar & Grill addition.
April 21, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior – Charlie’s Diner Bar & Grill, Spencer, Mass.
April 21, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

After Charlie’s we went back to Worcseter and our final destination of the Boulevard Diner. If one was ever to look for a museum quality working diner, this is it! The Bully is almost hard to describe, from the fantastic food, to the condition of the building, to the people who patronize the place and the people working behind the counter….. this diner has it all! I spoke with Jim George for quite a while, and we had a great conversation! He mentioned that he recently started making his own Italian Sausage again after many years of purchasing the product of a local meat purveyor. He said when he was a youngster working for his dad at the diner, making the home-made sausage was one of his regular duties and now he has come full circle. I will tell you, he had my mouth watering!


Jim George, behind the counter at the Boulevard Diner
April 21, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior – Boulevard Diner, Worcester, Mass.
Denise Cultrera in the foreground. April 21, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Boulevard Diner, Worcester, Mass. April 21, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

We actually did eat lunch at the Boulevard, but no Italian food (darn). Denise and I split a wonderful BLT on toasted Italian Bread with french fries! Well, that was it for my vacation week, the rest of it was spent winding down to Easter weekend and doing a little writing.