Herald file photo
The Midway Diner’s sign looms large on North Main Street in Rutland in 19995.
Rutlanders who wax nostalgic about gravy over fries and the memories of the Midway Diner can rest easy — the old restaurant will be around for a while longer.
“What we’re not doing is selling the Midway Diner,” owner Frank Trombetta Jr. pronounced over a cup of coffee at the diner last week.
Plans to turn the Midway on South Main Street into the state’s second IHOP (International House of Pancakes) have fallen through.
Trombetta and partner John Valente signed a deal last year to sell the Midway to the Handy family, who own the only IHOP in the state in South Burlington.
But the two partners said that just before Christmas they were notified that the Handys couldn’t come up with the financing to make the deal happen.
So for Trombetta, Valente and manager Lisa Blanchard, Valente’s daughter, it was business as usual.
They all said it was also a Christmas present of sorts to the veteran 10-person Midway staff.
Blanchard said if the sale had gone through there was no guarantee her employees would have a job.
“They were able to apply to IHOP,” Blanchard said. “But most of our staff have been here for at least 10 years.”
The Midway Diner at 120 South Main St. has gone through several changes since Eddie Copps opened the diner in 1947. In 1962, Copps sold it to Frank Trombetta Sr.
The original Pullman-style railroad diner, built by the Patterson Vehicle Company of New Jersey, couldn’t keep up with the times and was sold by the senior Trombetta in 1996 to Thomas Tresch of Orwell. A new and larger Midway restaurant that seats 125 was built, set farther back from the road behind the Midway Mobil and convenience store.
Trombetta said in a 1996 interview that selling the iconic diner was a difficult decision. “With all the competition, sometimes you have to make moves that are bothersome, but economically have to be done,” he said.
There have been other changes as well. The old Midway was known for being open 24/7. But those days ended nearly 20 years ago. And the restaurant further cut back its hours, closing at 3 p.m.
Although the old diner is gone, it still retains some of that old diner atmosphere. There are cozy booths and the food is still diner food: hamburgers, fries with gravy, and lots of decadent deserts. There’s a “Happy Days” feel as well with vinyl records tacked on the walls complemented by ’50s and ’60s music over the speaker system.
Sitting around one of the square-shaped, Formica–topped tables, Trombetta, Valente and Blanchard swapped stories about the diner’s past.
Valente recalled with a bit of humor that back in the days when the diner was open 24 hours it would sometimes take on a different atmosphere after the bars closed.
“When they came at 2 o’clock, they were so freakin’ drunk all they wanted to do was fight,” Valente said.
Blanchard, too, recalled her own experience.
“I think I was a waitress once for one shift, one of those overnight shifts, and I didn’t do it again,” Blanchard said with a laugh and a hint of nostalgia.
Trombetta said the Midway still makes money but the competition for the local dining-out dollars has increased.
As the Killington ski area started to expand and with it more dining choices on the mountain, fewer skiers came to town. Then came more competition down the street.
“Applebee’s, Friendly’s, the 99, they were very tough to compete with,” Trombetta said.
Valente chimed in that the restaurant business is a way to make a living. “You don’t get rich,” he said.
As far as changes now that IHOP is out of the picture, Valente said nothing is imminent.
‘We’re really in a process of re-evaluating what’s going on here,” he said.
He said one thing is certain: The Midway is open for business.
Bring on the fries and gravy.
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