WILLSBORO — A venerable eatery for 76 years, the former Sportsman’s Diner has new proprietors and has changed its name and décor.
Drew Reithel and his wife, Ramelie, decided to purchase the establishment, now the Willsboro Diner, and while they’re making improvements, they’re keeping the hometown diner values intact.
An eatery has stood at the location for more than three-quarters of a century, although this is actually the third structure to occupy the space.
“I’m the sixth or seventh owner. It used to be called Murphy’s before it became the Sportsman’s,” Reithel said.
Previous owner helps
A chalkboard proclaims the eatery’s motto, “More than a diner,” as the Reithels feel it is a significant part of the community. In addition to food, it is a place where friends gather and often get the latest news.
Bob Burt, one of the previous owners, gets the griddle hot and coffeemaker perking when he comes in daily around 5:15 a.m. to ready things for the “regulars,” who drift in some 15 minutes later. The frequent pre-dawn patrons wander in through the back door, sit in the dark so as not to attract a passerby actually looking for an early breakfast, and serve themselves.
The diner then opens at 6 when the cooks come in and prepare the normal fare.
“This really is a small-town diner,” Reithel said. “Our business triples during the summer. Sundays are usually our biggest days because many customers come before or after church. When it gets really busy, our regulars help out by serving coffee or clearing the tables.”
According to Bob Lacey, who owed the eatery in the 1980s, “The diner used to be larger and had a pool table when I used to be here. I’ve been here 53 wonderful years.”