Central Diner

also known as Paula’s Kitchen, The Elmwood Diner, Liberty Elm Diner, Worcester Lunch Car Company Diner #806

Worcester Lunch Car #806 has had a long life and many names but continues to attract new entrepreneurs who want to make a go of the restaurant business

About this Property

#Redevelopment

Worcester Lunch Car Company Diner #806 (henceforth simply called #806) has been known by many names and two locations. As diners go, they are not as mobile as a trailer but they can be moved, and as busniesses come and go, so do names. #806 is no different.

In 1947, Ralph “Truck” Narducci of Providence ordered the custom-built diner — completely furnished and stocked — and opened it for business at the corner of West Exchange and Gaspee streets in Downtown Providence as the Central Diner. 27 West Exchange Street (where the Westin Hotel stands today) was in thick of the city’s central business district, steps away from Union Station, City Hall, hotels, theatres, factories, offices, shops, warehouses, residences, and garages.

Mr. Narducci relocated the #806 six years later 2.75 miles south to 777 Elmwood Avenue and built a new concrete block kitchen. Elmwood Avenue was a thriving commercial corridor, with the Elmwood Theatre and numerous other businesses in the immediate neighborhood. Business was moving away from central downtown locations and spreading into the suburbs due to the exploding prevalence of automobiles.

#806 was known as Central Diner through 1972 but it has changed hands, changed names, and received a number of facelifts since then. Some knew it as the Elmwood Diner, Jenn’s Elmwood Diner, Ole Elmwood Diner, Louie’s Diner, Roberto’s Café, or La Criolla Restaurant.

In 2006, Elmwood resident Carol “Kip” DeFeciani purchased the property and initiated another overhaul, restoring the diner to its historic appearance and opening for business as The Liberty Elm. This update signaled the owner’s pledge to direct one percent of profits to purchase new disease-resistant American Liberty Elm trees for Elmwood Avenue. The food and the vibe were strong enough to receive national attention — the restaurant was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (Season 8, Ep. 8) in February, 2010.

The business lasted until about 2013, when it was again available for sale. A new family purchased #806 in January of 2014, changed the name back to the Elwood Diner, but lasted until 2017. Another owner gave it a go as Paula’s Kitchen, opening at a partuclary precarious time during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

#Current Events

Most recently (March 2021), the former Elwood Diner was listed for sale1. We are unsure if it has sold to a new entreprenuer yet.

#History


Excerpted from the National Register Nomination Form, prepared by Sarah Zurier and Kim A. Smith

Central Diner — Worcester Lunch Car Company Diner #806 — is an excellent example of the classic barrel-roofeddinerthatwaswidelyproducedbythecompanythroughoutthetwentiethcentury. It is a one-story, steel-framed prefabricated structure, measuring ten feet six inches in width by forty feet in length with three-foot projecting roof overhangs on each end. The present front vestibule and concrete block kitchen and dining room extension at the rear are later additions.

A flat-roofed, projecting stainless steel-clad entry vestibule projects from the front (east) elevation. Its form and massing are compatible with the diner’s historic façade. Lining the front wall on each side of the entrance are red porcelain enamel panels set beneath one-over-one aluminum windows. The panels are secured by red porcelain enamel battens. The windows have an operable lower sash which raises a screen that is recessed within the front wall, and windows are separated by a pale yellow vertical porcelain panel. A black porcelain enamel window sill, underscored by a bright yellow horizontal batten, delineates the upper and lower halves of the diner. […]

Both side elevations are distinguished by the overhanging barrel roof. The north (right side) elevation has a three-bay arrangement with a central stainless steel door flanked by red porcelain enamel panels with yellow pin-striping set below window openings. […]

The exterior of the Central Diner is in fair condition. The porcelain panels had at some point been covered over with two different types of modern siding, leaving nail holes in the panels. Some of the battens that hold the panels to the structure are missing or deteriorated. The metal roof is copper sheathed and its surface has been coated with a white soy-based sealer.

The diner was expanded with two flat-roof, concrete block additions. A kitchen addition was added ca 1953-54 to the rear southwest corner of the diner, and a dining room addition was attached to the rear northwest corner ca 1987. The two additions meet and appear seamless on the rear (west) elevation. Period industrial-type metal windows punctuate the walls of the kitchen addition, and glass-block windows light the dining room. The rough dimensions of the combined additions are twenty feet by forty feet.

Inside, the diner has remained largely intact since the day it rolled out of the Worcester Lunch Car Company factory, and is in good condition. A long counter configured for seating fourteen patrons on stools is located on the left side of the interior, and there is space at the right end of the diner for additional booth seating. Interior colors follow a pastel yellow and blue scheme, with stainless steel and black accents. Many original materials remain in the interior. The floor features tile laid out in a repeating pattern of three-inch squares comprising two-inch rectangles arranged pinwheel fashion around small square centers, all in alternating yellow and blue colors. The interior wainscot and the counter apron feature square yellow and black ceramic tiles, accented with stainless steel strips. The counter retains its original marble top, and is fronted by chrome pedestal stools with blue horizontal stripes both on the shaft and on the edge of the circular seats. Behind the counter, a stainless steel door provides access to the kitchen addition from the south end of the original diner space. The back bar of the diner is clad in stainless panels, each in a sunburst pattern, held by stainless vertical battens. A yellow porcelain enamel grill hood has two menu boards and a clock in its center. A plain stainless steel band lines the top of the windows and on the end walls between the curved roofline and the windows. The ceiling panels are light-blue porcelain enamel panels, affixed with stainless steel battens.

Significance

[…] Worcester Lunch Car Company diner #806 is significant as a rare and well-preserved example of a distinctive twentieth-century American building type. Diners were once a fixture of Providence’s business centers, industrial districts, and roadsides, serving shift workers, after-hours revelers, business people, and drivers at all hours of the day and night. Central Diner is a well-preserved product of the Worcester Lunch Car Company of Massachusetts, one of the pioneers of the American diner industry. In addition to its architectural importance, Central Diner embodies the evolution of the Providence diner business after World War II.

#In the News

Providence’s Elmwood Diner is back

by Jenn Salcido
Providence Journal | June 11, 2014

When someone undertakes renovations or rebuilding, it’s common to hear, “I just gave it a little love.”

But with Paul Smith and Zoe Neves, the new owners who quietly re-opened the Elmwood Diner last month — previously known as the Liberty Elm — giving the space a little love was a family affair.

It built on what they established back when Smith and Neves found that the work-life balance of their two 9-to-5 jobs wasn’t working for them. Neves, a graphic designer, was pregnant with the couple’s first child. Smith, who also had two children from a previous marriage, worked long hours for FedEx.

Smith’s sister had leased a convenience store in Newport, and he helped her clean up the old operation and set up the new one. It gave him an inkling that this business model might be a good one for him. Smith quit his job and bought Eastside Mart, a small convenience store on Lloyd Avenue, in 2007.

“2007 went by really quickly,” he said, referring to buying the store and their house in the city’s West End, plus Neves’ subsequent layoff, birth of daughter, Lily, and of course, the recession.

When they first acquired the store, Smith said, it took a while to sort through the inventory and really understand what they were working with.

“We’d come in and have family dinners in the back, and Paul would go out and take care of customers and then come sit back down. Immediately, even though everything wasn’t perfect, it had a different feel.”

Neves went back to work and Smith took care of Lily at the store.

Smith’s teenagers, Courtney and Jacob, were soon also a part of the store’s fabric. And when their son, Xander, came along, he’d pop up there, too. The family took requests from the community, taking care to learn what they wanted, not only in inventory but in hours and services.

This is the ethos that the pair has brought to the diner, which Neves purchased in January with an investment from her father.

The pair’s first order of business was bringing the kitchen up to fire code, which used most of the budget. The rest of the changes were cosmetic: the group recruited friends and family to clean and repaint the walls and ceiling and rearrange the dining room for more seating options. The long winters with no one maintaining the property were rough on the exterior, said Smith, and they applied a fresh coat of metallic paint to help bring back the gleam on the historic 1940s diner car.

A group of area children working through the City Arts program painted a mural on one of the exterior walls during their April vacation. It will be unveiled at the upcoming grand opening. They also gave it back its original name: the Elmwood Diner.

Some thrifty acquisitions — sparkling red and white vinyl booth panels from an ice cream shop in Boston, for instance — filled out the rest of the space. But Neves acquired more than furniture using the classified service.

When she responded to an ad for refrigerators for sale, she got more than she bargained for — a chef. The refrigerators belonged to Andrea LaFazia, whose North Providence restaurant, the Locals, had closed. LaFazia was managing at Providence’s Succotash.

Neves said that she and LaFazia clicked immediately, sharing the philosophy of combining farm-to-table wholesomeness with approachable comfort food in a family-friendly (and family-owned) atmosphere. As they prepared to open the restaurant, LaFazia was in the kitchen cooking up lunch for the family.

“She’s an amazing chef,” Neves said, waxing poetic about LaFazia’s masterful rendition of corned beef.

The diner serves breakfast six days (closed on Mondays) from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., offering lunch items in the later hours. Neves said that they want to cater to RIPTA and National Grid employees situated nearby. The Old School — two large Baffoni Farms eggs with herb-buttered toast and home fries — was an idea that came from a RIPTA diner, she said.

The menu features as many local products as possible. In addition to the Baffoni eggs, they serve cheese from Narragansett Creamery, coffee from New Harvest and soda from Yacht Club. The Frenchie (Two pieces of custard-soaked deliciousness, served with maple butter, garnished with the fresh fruit of the day) and Nutella and Cream Cheese, grilled cheese style are among the menu items.

As for Smith and Neves, the undercurrent of family is always there, whether it’s their young son eating lunch in the diner or their older son interviewing for a job there.

“This business is something that I think our kids can enjoy,” Neves said.

Captured September 25, 2021 from https://www.providencejournal.com/article/20140611/Lifestyle/306119903

  1. “Do You Want to Buy a Diner?,” GoLocalProv.com, March 19, 2021 captured September 16, 2021 from https://www.golocalprov.com/food/Do-You-Want-to-Buy-a-Diner.