Star Gazette Local News for Wednesday 12/12/01

One-time Elmira diner heads east with new lease on life

By SALLE E. RICHARDS
Star-Gazette
The Associated Press
Vestal's former Village Chef Diner starts its 305-mile journey Tuesday to Bow, N.H.

A diner that disappeared from downtown Elmira in the early 1960s will soon be seating those hungry for nostalgia in New Hampshire. The Mayfair Diner, once located at 100 W. Market St., Elmira, and then reborn as the Village Chef Diner on the Vestal Parkway in Vestal, is being saved by the American Diner Museum of Providence, R.I., a 6-year-old organization that works to find new owners for forsaken diners before they face the wrecking ball.

The 33-ton prefabricated diner began its 305-mile journey Tuesday from Vestal to its new home in Bow, N.H.

"People don't realize what they have until it's too late," Daniel Zilka, director of the museum, said Tuesday.

Zilka was in Elmira earlier this fall to research the Mayfair's history. The diner was built by Kullman Industries Inc. of Avenel, N.J., Zilka said.

Zilka said he thinks it was bought by Elmiran Bernard Comerski in the late 1940s as a reconditioned diner. The diner's mahogany interior places its original manufacture before the 1940s, he said.

The 18-foot-by-65-foot building is a "very unique diner," Zilka said.

Zilka said a lot of people simply don't know what to do with these old diners. His organization has saved 18 diners in its short history.

"They can donate them to us, get a tax credit, and we will find a home for it. That way these wonderful buildings are not demolished and instead are put back into service," he said.

That's what Alex Ray, owner of The Common Man Restaurant, a chain of nine restaurants in New Hampshire, has in mind for the old Mayfair. The diner will be stored in Bow until it's renovated and ready to become part of the chain.

Plans in Vestal were for the diner to be torn down and the site used for a new car dealership, but the car dealer decided to donate the old eatery.

The Associated Press and George Basler of Gannett News Service contributed to this report.