By the 1940s and 50s, diners had evolved from mobile lunch wagons to full service, sit down restaurants and could be found throughout New England and beyond. They were often located where there were
When Walter Scott saw a need among nighttime workers downtown to eat a quick meal during their break time, he opened the first “diner” on Westminster Street in Providence, Rhode Island in 1872. His invention was first called a “lunch cart” (sometimes called a Nite Owl, or a Nite Lunch). Many entrepreneurs soon copied his idea, first in Worcester, MA, and then quickly spread the concept up and down the East Coast. Over time, Scott’s idea expanded into the first "fast food" restaurants.
concentrations of factory workers and industry. A great example of this is Poirier’s Diner, which first opened in the Olneyville neighborhood in Providence in 1947 at 581 Atwells Avenue near Eagle Square. The site was in the center of manufacturing giants like General Electric, US Rubber, Uncas Mfg., the National & Providence Worsted Mills, Providence Steel & Iron Co. among others, and the diner catered to the workers of these industrial mill complexes; in many cases for 24 hours a day to accommodate the three shifts at the factories.
Poirier’s Diner is a prefabricated diner car, built by the Kullman Dining Car Company of Harrison, New Jersey. It is considered Streamline Art Deco in character with its signature stainless steel, porcelain enameled, and ribbed glass block elements. The Diner was the second in Rhode Island to be individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, after the Modern Diner in Pawtucket. The Diner is one of only two intact Kullmans in the State, along with the former Silver Top Diner.
Joseph and Mary Poirier purchased the diner new, then opened and operated the Diner from 1947 until 1955, at which time it was sold to a rapid succession of new owners and operators. Over the next 44 years, it was known by many names such as Armand’s, Squire’s, Arnold’s, the
Top Hat, Krystal’s, and finally the El Faro, before closing in 1999. The Diner was slated for
demolition as part of the pending redevelopment of Eagle Square in 2003. In an effort to
save this important landmark, West Side developer Jon Özbek purchased it with a plan
to relocate and renovate it and to see the Diner once again become a vibrant part of
Providence’s architectural and cultural landscape.
Finding a new lease on life after 65 years on Atwells Avenue, the Diner was moved to 1380 Westminster Street, in the heart of the West Side. The Diner has undergone a painstaking restoration with the assistance of the Providence Revolving Fund, the Rhode Island Historic & Heritage Commission and the National Park Service and is ready for its much-anticipated return to service.
140 years after Walter Scott’s invention began in Providence just a few blocks away, local restaurateurs Michael Arena and David Penta, owners of Amanda’s Kitchen in Pawtucket, the Lighthouse Restaurant in Johnston, and the Sea Plane Diner in Providence, will carry on the tradition with the new West Side Diner, and look forward to serving the neighborhood, city and region for years to come.