BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Salem State University went boldly yesterday where few colleges have gone before.
They opened a diner.
To be more accurate, they reopened The Salem Diner, a Loring Avenue landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The blue and yellow 1941 Sterling diner is across the street from the university’s central campus
Salem State bought the diner over the summer, one of several recent acquisitions of nearby property. It was closed for several months while the university searched for an operator. When none was found, Salem State decided to run the diner itself for both students and the public.
After a VIP opening Tuesday attended by Mayor Kim Driscoll and Salem State President Patricia Meservey, the hungry masses arrived yesterday yearning for food. They packed the 47-seat restaurant for breakfast and lunch.
“We’re all excited to come back today,” said Maryann Davey, who works at the campus police station across the street.
Davey, who ordered the chef’s salad, arrived early for lunch and waited for friends, all regulars for more than a decade.
“It’s about time it opened,” said Wendy Keiver-Hewett, as she slid into the newly upholstered booth across from Davey. “Now we’ll see how the food is.”
That, of course, is the big question. Would the diner change now that it is being operated by Chartwells Dining Service, a large corporation that oversees all the university dining halls, cafes and convenience stores?
“The menu itself is almost 100 percent what we had in the past,” said John Hayes, resident district manager for Chartwells. The prices also stayed the same, he said.
The lone complaint yesterday seemed to be the french fries. There weren’t any. But that problem will be corrected soon when a new fryolator arrives.
In time, Hayes said, he hopes to add a daily “Blue Plate Special” to give the place even more of a diner feel.
Running a diner is something new for Chartwells, which handles the food service at many private and public colleges.
“This is our first,” Hayes said.
At lunch yesterday, the crowd seemed evenly divided between the public and students. A sign on the door said it welcomed Clipper Cards, which are college ID and meal plan cards.
“It’s nice to have options from just the dining halls,” said junior Erin Flaherty, who sat at a corner table with friends while she ate a breakfast sandwich.
The diner is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. On Sunday, it is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.