NEWPORT, R.I. — A New Hampshire family whose love story began in a diner say they plan to reopen a beloved Newport diner in the Granite State’s Mount Washington Valley.
Since 1967, the place known as Bishop’s 4th Street Diner fed the people living in and visiting Rhode Island’s City by the Sea in its humble spot near the Naval War College.
But after the Colbea Enterprises LLC bought the land under its foundation in 2020, with plans to develop the adjoining property to put up a new Seasons Market and gas station, Bishop’s was in danger of the wrecking ball.
After trying unsuccessfully to find another place to move their diner, owners Steve and Vicki Bishop resigned to putting the diner up for sale this year and closing its doors for good in August.
Then, sometime early in the summer, a teenage girl in New Hampshire saw the YouTube video offering the diner for sale and showed it to her father.
Shawn J. Sylvester, who has loved diners since his early days driving for his father’s trucking company, said he fell hard for Bishop’s classic red-and-white stainless steel diner. It’s one of 200 left that were made by the Jerry O’Mahony company of New Jersey, the same manufacturer of the Miss Wakefield diner in Sanbornville, N.H.
That’s where Sylvester met his future wife, back in the mid-1990s. He was driving for his father’s trucking company, and she was working at the Miss Wakefield, which was owned by her family at the time. “I stopped in at 6 o’clock in the morning, and she was the waitress. And the rest was history,” Sylvester said.
Her father had brought the diner from Albany, N.Y., and restored it in New Hampshire. Sylvester is now hoping to repeat history with Bishop’s diner.
“I love diners. It’s the nostalgia about it, the history, it’s everything,” Sylvester said. “I couldn’t let myself see that diner get hurt in any way. I told Steve and Vicki at beginning of the summer, ‘Don’t let it get demolished by any means. I will bend over backwards to make sure the diner gets off that site.’”
Sylvester said a few miracles came into play.
The buildings and the diner were up for demolition on Sept. 1, but the Newport Planning Board balked when the lawyer for the project engineer asked them on Sept. 12 to approve the application to demolish. Instead, at the behest of planning board member Theresa Stokes, the board voted unanimously to contact the Rhode Island Historic and Preservation Heritage Commission to determine if the 70-year-old diner had historic value, and to give the commission a chance relocate it “within a reasonable period of time.”
Sylvester was still pursuing the diner. “I told Vicki and Steve, I can’t afford $150,000 [the original asking price], but don’t let it get crushed. I will do whatever I can, I will definitely move it,” he said.
Vicki Bishop said that they decided to give the diner to the Sylvesters to save it from destruction. “We believe that the Sylvesters will cherish the diner for many years,” she said.
Sylvester said Colbea Enterprises then worked with him on having it removed. Then came the wrangling with permits to move it off the land at 184 Admiral Kalfbus Road and drive it more than 200 miles to a storage site near Conway, N.H.
Bay Crane Northeast, in Smithfield, offered to move the diner, in a three-day process that began Oct. 11 and involved driving after midnight through Rhode Island, having a state police escort, and getting special permission from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for the 16½-foot wide diner to exceed the 16-foot oversize limit, Sylvester said.
“I feel like it’s a miracle,” Sylvester said. “It was a lot of stress and a lot of work getting it out of there, and it was miracle that it happened.”
His main regret was not being able to drive the diner himself and witness the looks on other motorists’ faces. He’ll get that chance when they move the diner to its next permanent home. He said they are looking to buy land in the Mount Washington Valley area to serve locals and tourists to the White Mountains.
“The diner all by itself is an incredible piece of history, it’s just something that I think draws everybody,” Sylvester said. “A diner really is special. I’m so happy we could save it. I’m on cloud nine.”
They haven’t settled on a name yet, though Sylvester is leaning toward the Star Diner, as a nod to the miracles he said it took to save it from destruction. He hopes to honor its past, with possible menu items named after the Bishops, or a nod to its previous name as the Princeton diner, or its original home in Swansea, Mass.
“It was a real blessing to have been able to help save the diner and a bigger blessing to be its keeper,” Sylvester said.
One thing he knows for sure, Sylvester said, they will they own the land the diner calls home.
This story was updated to include comments from Vicki Bishop.