Building for the Future
Written by KERNAN, JOE
Wed, Oct 31 07
A frustration of vocational teaching at the Rhode Island Training School is that sometimes a kid gets all enthused about a trade or skill only to have no place to go when they get out. Pretty soon a diner will be that place.
“You can only go so far,” said Chef William Tribelli, who runs the culinary program at the RITS. “You get the kids in here and then you have them learning something that makes sense and they get excited about it and when they get out, they have no place to pursue it. What we want to do is build a working network where the kids can keep going with something that they want to do.”
Tribelli and Community Liaison for the RITS John Scott have been thinking about that for some time. Scott was preparing for an appearance on The View on ABC as a contestant in a cooking contest about the same time Tribelli’s cookbook, “Jailhouse Cooking,” came out. They both wanted to find a way to pursue their love of cooking, but also to come up with a program that would include the culinary and carpentry students.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure who brought up the idea of a diner,” said Tribelli. “But we both came to thinking that restoring a diner would be a great way to interest carpentry students and culinary students.”
That was in 2004 and Scott and Tribelli decided it was not the right time for the project. But then Scott was named Community Liaison and he and Tribelli put together a “business plan.” They took their idea to a receptive administration.
By the time they were finished, they had developed an idea for a full-scale social enterprise that consisted of offering rehabilitation to troubled kids, preservation for historians, a workshop for college business students, a cooking workshop and a revenue-generating enterprise for the state.
All they had to do was to put it all together, and now, after three years of brainstorming, it is actually coming together.
The first thing they had to do was to find a diner.
That’s where Daniel Zilka comes in. As director of the American Diner Museum in Providence, he is always looking for practical ways to save as many threatened diners as he can. A goal of the Diner Museum is to give an old diner a new life by moving it from its threatened location, restoring it and taking it to a new site where it can sustain itself as a thriving enterprise.
“This is a great way to do preservation and help kids learn about history and gain skills,” said Zilka, who delivered several diners to the school and has been their resource person for diners and history. “We already have people who are interested in operating the diners once they are restored.”
The concept of being self-sustaining is also an integral part of the joint venture. Scott and Tribelli envision the diners being an outlet for the students’ efforts and a source of income for the program.
“The idea is to have the program not cost the taxpayers a cent,” said Scott. “We know how tough things are financially and it is important that this pay for itself.”
Tribelli, Scott and Zilka have called their joint venture the New Hope Diner Project and they now have three diners at the school waiting for the renovations that will bring them back to life.
Just outside the gates of the school is the “Louis Diner,” which enjoyed a checkered history of bouncing around northern Massachusetts before settling in Concord, N.H. Now called the New Hope Diner, the Worcester Lunch Car Company built it in 1930. The New Hope Diner will be a culinary laboratory for Tribelli’s culinary students at the school.
Hickey’s Diner, a truck-mounted version of a diner built in 1947 for John F. Hickey Jr. of Taunton, is the first of several defunct diners they will restore while learning an assortment of vocational trades, from metalworking to upholstering. Hickey’s, which belongs to the American Diner Museum, is expected to reopen as a functioning diner in Providence following the restoration.
Mike’s Diner, which used to be near the train station in Providence, will go on the road to promote the project.
“We see Mike’s going to places like the Scituate Art Festival and serving food the kids make,” said Tribelli. “You could generate about $5,000 a day with that.”
But mostly, Mike’s will be a rolling advertisement for the project that Tribelli expects will interest businesses looking for skilled workers who were not aware that the Training School would be a good resource for motivated workers.
“Once you generate an interest in something like this in students, you have to have a place for them to go when they get out,” said Tribelli.
The carpentry shop at the school is rebuilding Hickey’s from the frame up and is keeping the restoration as close to the original as they can. By using the disassembled parts and old photographs, the carpentry students make the components for the frame.
“Right now, we have the metal parts of the frame held together with nuts and bolts,” said carpentry instructor Norm Lambert. “But it was originally held together by rivets, so that is how we are going to do it. Once the frame is coming together, we’ll put in the rivets and peen them over, just like the original.”
Enthusiasm for the project extends well beyond the museum and the school. Zilka found a truck in Bowling Green, Ky., that is identical to the one Hickey’s was mounted on. The truck was shipped to Rhode Island and is now at the automotive department of New England Tech in Warwick being restored with an engine and parts donated by Coletta’s Garage in Providence.
Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Development Co., which specializes in the restoration of historic sites for commercial development, has donated money to the project. They are interested in possibly having a diner installed in their American Locomotive project in Providence.
New Harvest Coffee Roasters of Pawtucket, dealers in Fair Trade Certified coffee, has already come up with a special organic blend called New Hope Coffee, to be sold at the diner and other outlets.
“They contacted us and we knew from the start that we wanted to get involved,” said Gerra Harrigan, of New Harvest. “We enter into arrangements like this very selectively and we thought this was just wonderful. We couldn’t say no.”
All proceeds from the sale of New Hope Coffee will go to support the diner program.
Bryant University's Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) has agreed to take on the diners as their SIFE Project. They will be developing the business plan for Mike’s Diner and a marketing campaign for the New Hope Coffee line. SIFE forms teams and develops outreach projects in communities that teach market economics, financial literacy, personal skills and business ethics, which will offer yet another resource for Training School students.
Improving job readiness skills, developing leadership skills and providing marketable skills in construction, restoration and culinary and hospitality specialties is the long-range goal of the project.
“We envision the State of Rhode Island, home of the first diner, to be the leader in preserving these important pieces of American History,” said Scott. “The poetry in all of this is that the students of the RITS, a population that society turns away from, is going to save historic structures that society has turned away from.”
Friday, November 02, 2007
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American Diner Museum
- New Hope Diner Project
- P.O.Box 6022 Providence, Rhode Island 02940, United States
- WWW.AMERICANDINERMUSEUM.ORG - American Diner Museum a member of the New Hope Alliance is a Federally recognized 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation and all donations may be tax deductible. The Museum will provide the necessary documentation for tax purposes. However, an appraisal of non monetary gifts will be the responsibility of the donor.