Some Favorite Sites
Government/ Community Links
Diner In The Rough Awaits Destiny
by Thomas MacMillan | Apr 23, 2012 7:59 am
Posted to: Fair Haven
Railroad workers clearing brush on James Street uncovered a nearly forgotten piece of New Haven history: The old Forbes Diner, still up on blocks more than four years after owner Helmi “Mo” Ali put it out to pasture.
The 1957 diner has been sitting in a vacant lot near the corner of James and Humphrey street since 2008, when it was removed from its decades-long home at 189 Forbes Ave.
Until recently, it was obscured behind overgrowth along James Street. Recent trimming there has revealed a conversation piece for people passing by: What’s that old diner doing there?
What it’s doing is waiting for a new life, to be reopened in a new location, ideally within New Haven, said owner Ali.
Ali, who is 52 and originally from Egypt, expressed that hope during a break from slinging egg sandwiches at his Star Diner, the Lombard Street eatery behind which the Forbes Diner now sits.
Some 15 years ago, Ali (pictured) moved the Star Diner from Ansonia. Sometime after that, Ali bought the Forbes Diner. He eventually pulled it from the spot it occupied for over 50 years, to make way for a Dunkin’ Donuts.
He moved it to the lot behind the Star Diner in two trips. There it has sat ever since. Ali said he’d still like to reopen the diner, but he worries his window of opportunity is closing.
After putting together a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich for a lone customer, Ali locked up the Star Diner and strolled out back to take a look at the Forbes.
“I’m getting old, man,” he said as he took the padlock off the fence gate. He said he’s started trying to sell the Forbes Diner, since he’s worried he might not be able to reopen it himself. He’s posted it on Craigslist: “50’s DINER FOR SALE!! READY TO MOVE!!”
“I got a call from Texas yesterday,” he said. None of the leads have panned out.
The diner is a “classic, top-of-the-line 1957 vintage Fodero diner,” according to one diner fan site. The molded metal exterior features pink highlights and is topped with a double ring of neon tubes. “That cost me a lot of money, man.”
“This is the kitchen,” Ali said, standing between the two sections and thumping the right one with his fist. “This is the dining room.”
A third piece, the diner’s vestibule, stands leaning nearby. Its clock is stopped at 1:40.
The windows are covered with particle board. Ali said everything inside is perfectly preserved and all complete. “It was taken down while it was still running.”
As he locked the gate back up, Ali said he’s not sure what will become of the old diner.
While he’s open to selling it, Ali said his hope is that the city would help him find a place to reopen the diner as a way to create jobs. “I can’t afford to buy a lot myself,” he said.
Ali said the most important thing, whether he owns it or sells it to someone else, is finding a proper new home for the historic diner—ideally in New Haven.
Post a Comment
Totally cool. I love old dinners! I hope this can find a home in new haven. I spotted it last week. Great story thank you :)
posted by: ACR on April 23, 2012 9:22am
It’s a shame.
While Dunkin unquestionably puts out a decent coffee to go; in this instance they were no improvement over what Ali was doing a decade ago.
He was a pretty nice fellow as I recall, and as quick with a joke as he was with his service; both were lightening fast.
I ate there often, the site was easy to get to, and hopping back onto I-95 was no problem either.
I miss the place.
Jason Sobocinski is the man for this!! Keep this in New Haven, true Gem!!!
posted by: Roadsider on April 24, 2012 8:37am
About a month ago, a similar diner, the Bel Aire Diner in Peabody, Massachusetts was demolished after sitting in storage for more than five years. It was demolished because the owner had unreasonable expectations of its value, originally trying to sell the thing for $150,000. In March, I got a call from the owner’s wife saying that if anyone wanted it, they could have it for free. There were no takers and it was scrapped. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this scenario play out.
Mr. Ali is facing a similar situation. He rather heroically saved the Forbes (though he was effectively paid to do so), and he’s got this ridiculous notion that the city is going to give him a piece of land to set the thing up. Trouble is, even if they do give him the land, he faces another million dollars in development costs before he serves that first cup of coffee.
I don’t think your article says what his price is, but I can tell you that if it is more than $1,000, he might as well demolish it now because no one in their right mind is going to buy it from him. I haven’t spoken to Mr. Ali in some years, but I have friends who have visited the New Star recently, and he seems to have no understanding what he has. It’s not a 57 Impala. It’s more like a 57 Kelvinator that was left sitting in a field for ten years.
Given that the State of Connecticut has at least at least three other historic diners similarly endangered, I guess you could say that the angle is the ongoing folly of these diner dreamers. At least Mr. Ali has one diner in operation, and I commend the fact that he saved, moved, and reopened the New Star, but in the case of the Forbes, he broke the cardinal rule of diner preservation: Don’t buy a diner unless you have a location for it.
If you’d like any more information, let me know. In the meantime, I recommend visiting my website.
Recipe for an American Renaissance:
EAT in diners. RIDE trains. SHOP on Main Street. Put a PORCH on your house. LIVE in a walkable community
http://www.RoadsideOnline.com <> 267.536.9010
posted by: ACR on April 24, 2012 10:32am
>>Don’t buy a diner unless you have a location for it.
How could he possibly expect that the land owner would buy out his lease so as to accommodate a Dunkin Donut store?
posted by: Roadsider on April 24, 2012 1:43pm
How could he have sold his lease without securing a new site? He chose to sell, I would imagine, and if so, failed to take into account the real costs of moving the diner and setting it up elsewhere. He took the quick payday, and now he’s stuck with the albatross. Poor planning all around.
posted by: antique on April 24, 2012 3:53pm
Perhaps Ali would like to donate the diner to the New England Auto Museum for an internal display in their museum when it’s built! The diner would have to be restored anyway and would live on as a permanent display. The museum could maybe also use it as a “working” diner within the museum during special events and shows! The New England Auto Museum is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization and any donations would be tax deductible.
Roadsider wrote… “It’s not a 57 Impala. It’s more like a 57 Kelvinator that was left sitting in a field for ten years.”
I think Chevy started making Impalas until ‘58…
posted by: Roadsider on April 25, 2012 11:57am
Forgive me. 57 Bel Aire.
Oh Man! My parents used to take me to the Forbes Diner and I’d get Grapenut Pudding! I’d love to buy this place and find a great spot for it. First thing that’d go on the menu…Grapenut Pudding!!! This place is steeped in New Haven nostalgia. Any wealthy investors out there?!