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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Home needed. Large space required. Breakfast likely included

By Mark Zaretsky
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— They just packed up the front half of the sleek, stainless steel Forbes Diner last week, put it on a flatbed truck and took it away.
After 51 years, on and off, as a landmark eggs and coffee stop on Forbes Avenue, the diner is gone.
When they finish doing that with the back half of the Forbes this week to make way for a Dunkin’ Donuts, it will mark the first time in 60 years that there hasn’t been a diner at Forbes Avenue and Stiles Street.
But this is a story without an ending as yet — and there still is a chance for a happy one.
The good news is: The Forbes Diner is still in New Haven.
It’s still owned by its most recent owner, and Helmi Elsayed “Mo” Ali — a pretty resourceful guy, who a decade ago moved Ansonia’s former New State Diner to become the New Star Diner in Fair Haven — still hopes to reopen it. He prefers to do so in New Haven — or if not, someplace close by.
The well-preserved 1957 Fodero diner has gone through changes before. Its original owners, the Ezold family, closed it in 1994, but it reopened in 1998.
Ali, who struggled for years to keep the Forbes going amid high costs and marginal business, finally agreed to sell the property after several years of Dunkin’ Donuts overtures.
He closed the diner last week when the riggers showed up.
The original plan, which the City Plan Commission approved in 2006, called for demolition. But, Ali couldn’t go through with it and convinced the buyer to let him move the diner instead.
“I don’t want to knock it down,” Ali said.
So he moved the front half early Monday, and will move the back half midweek to property he owns near his other diner.
Having made that commitment, he’s nervous and doesn’t mind saying, “I need help — I need a new home right away!”
Ali hopes the city values the Forbes as much as he does and will get involved in trying to help relocate it. If anyone else out has a good, high-traffic spot on a main drag — preferably in the city — for a beautiful old diner, he can can be reached at the New Star Diner at 562-5582.
The Forbes, which employed more than a dozen people at one point, “is in very good shape — inside and out,” Ali said. “All you need is a piece of property.”
City Deputy Economic Development Director Tony Bialecki, who used to eat at the Forbes Diner as a kid, said he’s aware of the situation. “I may just take a drive by and talk to him. It’s been a while since we talked about it,” Bialecki said.
Bialecki pointed out that City Plan Director Karyn Gilvarg noted the diner’s historic value in City Plan’s 2006 approval of the Dunkin’ Donuts plan.
There are others who recognize the diner’s value. Ali said he turned down an attractive offer from someone who wanted to move it out of state.
“It is a beautiful diner and it is very desirable,” said diner expert Randy Garbin, who runs the RoadsideOnline.com Web site and ate at the Forbes twice.
“This one is the diner that everybody wants when they call up looking for a diner — they want a big, stainless steel diner from the ’50s,” said Garbin, who lives outside Philadelphia.
“It seems a little sad,” said Richard J.S. Gutman, author of “American Diner: Then and Now” and curator of the Culinary Archives & Museum at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. “I’ve eaten there, I’ve liked it.”
Gutman, at the time of the Forbes’ reopening in 1998, called the model used for the Forbes “just about the zenith of diner design. ... It sort of just epitomizes the 1950s.”
The man who built the Forbes, Pat Fodero, who ran the Fodero Dining Car Co. of Bloomfield, N.J., said in 1998, “They’ve got a good unit there. All they’ve got to do is serve good food.”
Mark Zaretsky can be reached at mzaretsky@nhregister.com or 789-5722.

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