The historic Salem Diner shut down Friday after nearly 80 years of serving up savory breakfast fare to local residents, pols, college kids, and even the late Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky.
“I was busy throughout” the day, cook Richard Ashby said in a phone interview Friday afternoon, soon after the diner shut its doors. “I didn’t get a break today. Folks were just coming in to get their last meal, last sitdown. It was a good day, in terms of the crowd. A few tears. It was pretty emotional.”
The diner had previously closed in 2013 but reopened several months later, after Salem State University purchased the Loring Street haunt through a nonprofit entity for $600,000.
When the business reopened, school officials pledged to protect the cozy 47-seat diner, which landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. A university spokesperson told the Globe shortly after the reopening that the school planned “to keep it very much the way it has been for years.”
Salem State spokeswoman Nicole Giambusso said Friday in a statement that the school “looks forward to unveiling a new dining experience this fall that will include 24/7 dining on our campus. These changes are designed to meet the needs articulated by our students, but it was not feasible to carry out this vision while also maintaining the Salem Diner.”
The university, Giambusso said, has “already received significant interest in the diner and will launch an RFP [request for proposals] process to move it off of Salem State’s campus. We plan to give preference to those seeking to maintain the diner as a local establishment.”
The Salem News reported in April that university president John Keenan had announced the planned closing, writing in an e-mail to the campus community that a study concluded the diner was “not cost-effective for the campus program to operate.”
“Salem Diner is unique in its 80-year history and Sterling Streamliner model, but these characteristics also present operational challenges,” Keenan wrote, according to the newspaper.
The future of the business wasn’t clear Friday. Ashby said the diner was “closed for good until somebody buys it and moves it.”
Sterling Diner of Merrimac built the Salem Diner in 1941. Opened by George F. Sullivan and Frederick J. Doherty, the diner was sold in the mid-1940s to brothers James and William Kallas of Salem, said Peter Tsoutsouras, whose late father, Theo Tsoutsouras, a first cousin of the Kallases, was the main cook in the early 1960s.
James Kallas eventually bought out his brother’s share. When he retired in 1983, he gave half of the business to his son, John, and sold the other half to Theo Tsoutsouras. In 1989, John Kallas sold his share of the business to Theo and Peter Tsoutsouras, who ran the diner until 2001, when they sold it.
The diner went through multiple subsequent owners before the university stepped in.
Globe Correspondent John Laidler contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.