NEWPORT — It was the last day of Bishop’s 4th Street Diner.
The owners, Steve and Vicki Bishop, couldn’t sleep for thinking about it. By 3 a.m. Sunday, Steve was at the diner, preparing as usual for an unusual day.
“I knew this was it,” he said.
By sunrise, there was a line of people waiting to say goodbye.
This iconic red-and-white diner has stood here on busy Admiral Kalbfus Road for 55 years, older than that other landmark, the Claiborne Pell Bridge, whose workers were fed by the diner’s catering truck.
Since 1967, the diner has fed those spilling off the bridge into the city, and generations of locals, including those working at the naval station nearby. It has lasted through hurricanes and blizzards, endured the shutdown during the pandemic, only changing owners a few times while keeping loyal customers through decades.
The old diner is the last of its kind on Aquidneck Island, and one of just 200 diners made by the Jerry O’Mahony Company that are left in the country.
But progress trumps nostalgia. The new landowners, Colbea Enterprises LLC, are developing the lot into a Seasons Corner Market and gave the Bishops until Sept. 1 to move or sell the diner. Despite public outcry and a petition signed by locals, the diner has to go.
It may be heading for a new home in New Hampshire, provided a potential buyer obtains the needed permits to move it, the Bishops said. They are hoping Colbea will allow for a little more time, just long enough to get the permits and prepare for its journey north.
The diner’s closure has meant splitting up the longtime staff, who’ve become like family over the years.
Jennifer O’Loughlin started working as a waitress here 20 years ago, when she was a single mother raising two boys. The hours were right for a working mother, and she fell in love with the people at her workplace. She can’t imagine working as a waitress anywhere else. In fact, she says she won’t.
“It was a beautiful thing. And, once you work here, you can’t go anywhere else,” she said. “It’s family.”
O’Loughlin swung through the crowded diner with dishes — “Here you are, sunshine!” “More coffee, hon?” — pausing to hug people, some with tears, as they wished her well.
“It’s so Newporty. It’s just been a fixture,” said Gladys Barbosa of Newport, who began coming here with family 40 years ago. “The waitresses have been here for years. You walk in and they call you ‘Honey.’ ... It was a slice of Americana and now it’s gone.”
Harry Harvey, who worked as a dishwasher at the diner in the late 1960s when it was called Princeton, remembered the catering truck driving up to construction workers when the Pell Bridge was still mid-span. He thought the diner would last forever, just like the bridge. “It’s sad to see it leave.”
Michael Bradley, a longtime customer, said the diner was like the TV show, “Cheers,” where everyone knows your name. He said he couldn’t imagine anywhere else taking its place.
“Let’s call Joe Biden,” Bradley said. “Do you think he’ll give us a pardon?”
Forcing the diner to close “is taking away from the community,” said Natalie Harris of Newport, as she sat with a tableful of friends. They had hoped that a petition would have persuaded the new landowners of the diner’s importance to Newport.
“It’s going to leave a void,” agreed Cassondra McMillan, also of Newport. She’d brought a bottle of bubbly wine to make mimosas at the table, for their last breakfast at the diner.
As she popped the cork, the bottle blew, spraying foam over her clothes, and customers at nearby tables clapped and cheered.
Regulars and newcomers took photos, wanting to be part of the diner’s last day. The menus started to disappear, as people collected them, and the Bishops decided to let customers take home their simple white diner mugs too.
What people wished for, though, was the sense of belonging the diner gave them.
They wrote about it in the notebooks that Vicki Bishop left on tables for customers, in case they wanted to write about their memories.
“I met lot of great people and made a lot of friends here. I will miss you all,” wrote one.
“The staff is always super inviting and friendly and I truly feel that I found a second fam. Don’t know where I will go once you close, but I will always remember Bishops,” wrote another.
“Thanks for all the wonderful memories ... Bishops will always be remembered as family,” wrote another.
This is what people talked about — besides the Portuguese French toast, the chourico hash, the coffee cabinets, the “ticket” burger with mushrooms and sour cream — the sense of belonging that they found at the diner. Even as the supplies of food ran low, and then ran out, no one seemed to mind.
As they rushed around, greeting and hugging people, the Bishops thought about what they’d built. They remembered how much they loved being here. They recalled giving away Thanksgiving meals to the needy, staying open during blizzards for the few travelers, the customers who were so consistent that the waitresses could just write their names and the cook knew what to make.
The Bishops will miss working for themselves. They will miss this homey diner, their staff, and all the people who found a place here.
“We’re going to miss giving more to the community,” Vicki Bishop said. “But I feel like we’re leaving a warm place in people’s hearts, and in our hearts as well.”
This article has been updated to correct the number of O’Mahony diners left in the United States.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.