For one year, Andy’s Place sat vacant. Inside, its diner-style booths were empty, its laminated menus unused. Outside, a sign on the door explained why: owner James Wilcox had died of a heart attack and the restaurant was closed.
Many of the diner’s regulars were upset by the news, but perhaps none more so than Sarah Smith and Adeel Tahir. The building was up for auction, and they were hearing rumors that other potential buyers were looking to renovate for use as a laundromat or dealership. One bidding war, $250,000 and a month of renovations later, Smith and Tahir re-opened Andy’s Place in May.
Built in 1910 as a train station, a patchwork of owners eventually turned it into a restaurant, passed down over the years until it was bought by Andy Statires in 1995, then sold to Wilcox, one of his cooks, around 2000.
“We came in once per week, just because it was a great diner with good food and the waitresses were always amazing,” Smith said. “We weren’t looking to change it.”
Waitress Lisa Meisel, who was hired by Statires back in 1995, found work elsewhere during the year-long interim.
“When I heard about the auction, I was wondering what happened,” she said. “And then I got a phone call from Sarah.”
Smith took Meisel out to lunch — it was her and Tahir’s first venture in the restaurant business, and they figured the more they could learn from past employees, the better. Andy’s was already a hot spot in the community, Meisel told them, and the regulars would return in an instant.
“She was part of the building,” Smith said of Meisel.
On opening day, after the ribbon-cutting with Mayor Ted Gatsas, there were no vacant seats, and Tahir and Smith were greeted with hugs, kisses and handshakes.
“We’re bringing in new regulars who were attracted to this place just like we were,” Tahir said.
Continuing with tradition, they source from nearby, bringing in coffee from Concord and local eggs and meats from around New Hampshire. Tahir said the new management plans to add an outdoor, seasonal seating area with picnic tables, as well as more dishes on the menu, plus some special menu items for city workers and nearby Elliot Hospital.
Meisel, after taking another order from the booths, said that the menu has stayed similar to what it has been: simple diner food, on two pages, half lunch and half breakfast. Jimmy Cakes, named for the previous owner, are popular. They’re two poached eggs with bacon and cheddar atop potato cakes. Sarah’s secret recipe for meatloaf is a special Andy’s runs regularly.
“It was one of the reasons we wanted to open — Adeel liked my cooking, so it’s a place I can try some of it out,” Smith said. “Of course I’ve been handling every aspect since we opened — dish washing, busing, all sorts of things, but it’s worth it.”
Already, they’re getting to know the community.
“These women come in every Wednesday,” Smith said, waving goodbye to a dozen seniors.