NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

November 23, 2012

Another Fine day

For decades, regulars have relished 'community feel,' hearty fare at local diner

(Continued)

They know the menu of sloppy joes, chicken pot pie, meatloaf and chowders by heart.

Like other regulars, Janet Desaulniers and Jim Desaulniers, a mother and son, did not have to pick up the menu when, two days before Thanksgiving, they ordered roast turkey dinners.

“I like the community feel,” Janet Desaulniers said. “You can just walk down the street and be with your neighbors.”

Perched on one of the counter stools, James Bentley, a graphic designer, said he, at one point, came every day and also likes the atmosphere of a true local joint.

“Chains try too hard and still seem impersonal,” he said. “Anything with potatoes and gravy works for me, but you’ve got to like green beans to come here.”

Then there are old-timers like Rice’s former landlord Joe Donahue, 85, to whom the hearty meals evoke memories of a city that decades ago teemed with mom and pop stores. He bought the building in 1964 when he and his brother needed space to store equipment for their electrical contracting business. They added on 50 feet and helped a relative open a coffee shop up front.

But Donahue’s recollection stretches back even further.

“It was built a long, long time ago when I was a kid,” he said over a pot roast lunch. “Years ago, we used to jump the fence and steal the guy’s apples.”

Built to house The Great Pacific & Atlantic Tea Company, the country’s first grocery chain, it eventually turned into a series of different bakeries, coffee shops, and eventually a restaurant, Donahue said. Searching his memory, he recalled Friday nights so crowded that it was hard to get a seat, intense political discussions, and two hostesses who roller-skated among the tables — one dressed in a corset, the other reminiscent of a Cuban rebel.

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