NEWPORT, R.I. — Bishop’s 4th Street Diner has served tourists, locals, and Navy men in Newport since the 1960s. Though it has gone by different names and had different ownership along the way, customers have long known they could get a quick breakfast and a cup of Joe at the diner off of Admiral Kalbfus Road, by the Naval Station.
But come Jan. 31, 2022, that streak might end.
Steve Bishop, the diner’s current owner, is trying his hardest to keep it open, even if it means leaving the plot the diner is named after. “4th Street” refers to a road right next to the plot and parallel to the train tracks nearby that the city planned but never built.
Though Bishop owns the diner itself, a modular O’Mahony dining car with attached kitchen and additional dining space, he doesn’t own the land it sits on. That belongs to Colbea Enterprises, which also owns the Shell Gas Station next door to the diner.
Bishop is currently a tenant at will, which means he doesn’t have a long-term lease. Colbea purchased the property in the beginning of 2020, with the intention of expanding the gas station, only giving Bishop a four-month lease, and then renting the space month-to-month after March 2020. Then this past November, Colbea alerted Bishop that he’d have to be off the property by the end of January 2022. Bishop had previously rented the lot from Paul Miller before Colbea, and had a similar tenant agreement.
The Bishops have started a petition to stay on the lot; more than 1,500 people have signed on so far. The couple is also working with a lawyer to see if they can stay a few months longer, until they can raise enough money to move and find a new space.
Bishop originally bought the diner in 1998 after managing it for a few years and added his last name to the front. He ran the diner until 2008, when his ex-wife took it over, but he became the owner again with his current wife, Vicki, in 2018.
“I love cooking. I love the things I make, to know that customers appreciate it,” Bishop said. “I take pride in whatever I cook, my soups, everything.” Bishop also works as a cook at the naval base, and especially loves making his homemade chilis, chowders, and Portuguese soups.
At 59 years old, “I can do this for 20 more years,” he said, adding, “if I live for 20 more years.”
“The property is just not big enough, unfortunately” for both the gas station to expand and the diner to stay, said Bob McGann, Colbea’s director of real estate. That’s why Bishop’s will have to move. “The property that we have now is not big enough, that is the reason why we bought the abutting property.”
When asked if Bishop would be allowed to extend his stay on the property, McGann said “not at this time.”
As of now, it appears that Bishop’s best bet is to move and bring part of the diner with him.
The old diner was originally hauled to Newport from Swansea in 1967, according to Bishop. It could be lifted and transported again, but that would be expensive.
The Bishops started a GoFundMe before Thanksgiving, hoping to raise $400,000 to move the main dining room to a new location and build a new kitchen and bathrooms. More than 130 donations have raised about $7,600 so far. Bishop said that some people have also reached out to offer help finding a new lot for the diner.
The prospect of moving is daunting, but Bishop hopes they can preserve the diner in some form. “Worst case scenario,” he said, “somebody wants to buy it and move it.”
Some of Bishop’s workers, who have been at the diner for decades now, are upset about the move, and even sadder that it might not be able to open in a new location under the same ownership.
Kim Raposa, who has a shout out on the back of the diner’s menus for working at Bishop’s as a waitress for more than 20 years, remembers her first day on May 1, 2001.
“I was one of the youngest ones there,” she said, adding with a laugh. “Now, I’m the old one.”
Raposa said Bishop’s has been a wonderful place to work. Her co-workers have become her friends and family, she said, and her customers are the highlight of her workday.
“I bought a house from this place. I’ve worked hard,” Raposa said. “People are devastated. Every customer I wait on says something, I swear to God,” Raposa said.
Jennifer O’Loughlin has also been a waitress at Bishop’s since the early 2000s, and found a family at the diner. She even calls Raposa her sister (though Jenny’s real sister also worked at the diner and originally got O’Loughlin the job).
O’Loughlin is so sad about the potential move and closure that she refused to go to a staff meeting about it, knowing it would upset her too much.
She’s worried the move will be too expensive to manage, but she still has a little hope that enough money can be raised, with so many people reaching out online and in-person. She is trying to remain upbeat.
“This year, forget Miracle on 34th Street,” she’s been telling customers, “we’re hoping for a miracle on 4th Street.”
Colleen Cronin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.