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The Last Breakfast at Coffee Corner / © Bryan Pfeiffer

No diner is worth the salt in its shakers unless it includes a bunch of old guys who meet each morning to read the paper, drink coffee, eat eggs, and bitch about the world. I want to grow up to be one of those guys. I might not make it.

Another diner died on Sunday — Coffee Corner in my home city of Montpelier. Without Coffee Corner, Montpelier will still be the greatest city on Earth. But it will never be the same city. Not for me, not for so many of us who live and work here. Our community has lost some of its soul.

No great American city is complete without a diner. Our diners are like English pubs — where we meet neighbors, face to face (not on Facebook), and talk about everything from pot to potholes to politics. In diners we get the news that doesn’t make the newspapers: Who had a knee replacement? Who’s good in the mayor’s race? What’s crazy in the Statehouse today?

And when we argue, we smile. Something about coffee and eggs and homefries seems to make for cantankerous — yet civil — discourse. In diners we solve problems. Or at least we try. And even when we don’t solve a thing, which is most of the time, at least we sit together for a meal. And that’s sacred, more so than what happens in noisy bars (especially in bars with TVs).

The Last Breakfast at River Run (August 8, 2010).

Coffee Corner’s closure, after nearly 60 years at the corner of State and Main, is my second major diner demise in seven years. When I lived in Plainfield, we lost River Run, where artists, farmers, firefighters, educators and various misfits would meet for Jimmy Kennedy’s epic pancakes and famous catfish breakfasts. Plainfield Village has never been the same.

In big ways, Vermont is caught up in an unwelcome homogenization. Far too many of our essential services are now foreign-owned: banking, utilities, retail commerce, even ice cream. National chains advance on our communities, sapping our originality and options, gradually making Vermont too much like Anywhere, USA, where Denny’s passes as a diner and Panera (all sugar, no flavor) masquerades as a bakery.

Even so, our local food movement rises in resistance. Many of us in Plainfield moved on to Maple Valley cafe, where my Saturday-morning breakfast group — friends I’ve known and dined with for decades — remains a highlight of my week. (Hey, I’ll even give up birdwatching in May for this group; well, okay … sometimes.)

The Friday-morning breakfast group at Coffee Corner (that’s us above) is mulling over options; we’ve got a few in Montpelier. But none will be like Coffee Corner. We wish Amy, Stacey, Heather, Karen, Mike and Sean, and everyone else at the diner only the best on their new adventures. We’ll miss them all. We’ll miss the counter, the chef’s special, the Manghis’ bread. We’ll miss Louise (that’s her watching over us in the photo) and we’ll miss Leeds Brewer, who helped bus our table for when his group arrived next. We’ll miss the coffee and hot sauce and hot conversation.

And from behind that illustrious front window, we’ll miss the big view of our little city — a city now missing Coffee Corner.

  1. Steve says:

    When me and my sister were kids and their parents used to take us there Montpelier will never be the same.

  2. Jeana says:

    When I returned to Montpelier this weekend for a funeral, I was devastated to learn that the Coffee Corner was no more. My parents (under different ownership, of course) had met there sixty-six years ago. We would always enjoy a breakfast there when in Montpelier. I felt like my roots had been pulled.

  3. david frattalone says:

    I will miss the coffee corner. I do miss the coffee corner. Mike, Sean and the crew I hope for the best. In the meantime, where shall we go?

  4. Mary Roehm says:

    I only wish we had known! Maybe some of us could have taken it over! Now what! Down Home is no replacem not, the owner is a …..!

  5. Alison FitzPatrick says:

    ,A lot of discussion, local politics, got “hashed” over at that front table every morning. Lola Aiken (wife and assistant to George Aiken) reigned as a mover and shaker into her later years (80? 90?). Sam FitzPatrick had his office upstairs, but he could often be found at that table in front. Even as a teenage rebel, it was great to have coffee at the counter and talk over life and the future, it was the place maybe everyone did that….And now what will we do without it? Even just walking past on E. State St. was a scent of coffee and the grill, that I associate with Mplr.

  6. D. Carlson says:

    Beautiful requiem, Bryan, and a great reminder of how valuable the local, homegrown, mom-and-pop-and-friends places are to all of us. Patronizing them is the best way to keep them going – but even that isn’t always enough. Hope another one is born soon, and that these folks enjoy a well-deserved rest.

  7. Karen King says:

    No other restaurant will take the place of Coffee Corner Diner. Thanks for the eulogy, Brian. I will miss the Friday morning guys, the front table folks, the food, the view of State Street and all of it’s characters, all the wonderful customers, and my fellow employees, and of course Mike and Sean. We have had a lot of laughs and conversations from ridiculous to serious. Your friend, Karen King. Oh, and I still remember your order. Half order of oatmeal with xtra, fresh berries, usually no more than 1 and a half cups coffee and a glass of water!

  8. Leeds Brewer says:

    It certainly is an interesting change. Suddenly, what the hell do I do every morning after 15 years of daily breakfast at Coffee Corner? There’s going to be a definite time of adjustment as we re-group around a new location. But, there will not be the same madhouse view of State, East State and Main with the attendant and constant vehicular confusion.
    There’s an exception to every rule, including that one: All things change.

    Coffee Corner, a place Montpelier,
    was a restaurant, where they would feel yer
    angst and yer pain
    and serve food, (so they’d claim)
    it’s all history now in Montpelier.

  9. sean ward says:

    Mike and I did the best we could for the last 7 years. We tried to keep it the Coffee Corner, but, alas, it was not to be.

    • Bryan says:

      No worries, Sean. You two did great for seven years — a very good run. Congratulations. Enjoy your vacation!

    • Jim Smith says:

      It was a good run, fellas. I will always value my time there in 2014. Wishing the two of you the best of happiness in the next phase of your journey. Don’t forget to keep in touch every once in awhile on Facebook!

  10. Claudia Welch says:

    Amen. Been there all my life. Love Mike and the memories….

  11. Susan says:

    How unfortunate.

  12. Rose Shoemaker says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. I understand it, and your sentiments completely. It happened in Gila several years ago when Valley Market closed.
    But, there is hope! We got a restaurant in Cliff this past February!!!! Our community has gained what you just lost. It’s been just wonderful. When you walk in the door you can feel the pulse of the Gila valley.
    Why am I telling you this? I guess just to acknowledge your grief…and then to say that there is hope for revival. I hope someone opens a place for you someday soon.
    If you feel so inclined you can visit the Facebook page of Tammy’s Cafe.

  13. Kay Schlueter says:

    I heard on WCAX (another business to go to an out-of-state owner) that yet another– wait for it– PIZZA place will open in the former diner’s space. Sigh.

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