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From Ruffuls to Wayland Square Diner: The End of an Era

Saturday, July 23, 2011

 

This past spring Ruffuls Restaurant, the beloved family institution on the East Side of Providence, was taken over and redesigned into a brand new “Wayland Square Diner”. This was recently made official at the beginning of July when they closed the entire diner for a week to renovate it.  

Around for more than 50 years, Ruffuls had become that rare breed of neighborhood establishments beloved by generations of children, families and students. 

From deli to local institution

Opened in 1957 by the Rufful family, it was originally a deli with just a couple of stools and a counter. The deli wasn’t doing very well, though, so the family renovated and turned it into a full-blown (albeit small) restaurant. Ruffuls quickly became a family hot spot in Wayland Square and was always busy.

The neighborhood restaurant thrived for decades. Recently, though, business had slowed and Ruffuls was heading to close for good in February. This is when Colin Meehan entered the picture and took over the day-to-day operations. He subsequently bought the restaurant from the Rufful family.  

Maintaining tradition, even under new ownership

Meehan had his own vision for the diner but also understood the importance of maintaining the tradition of the long-time local business. He felt strongly that the residential community still needed a neighborhood diner that maintained the friendly atmosphere that Ruffuls was known for. The main changes on the agenda, he said, were changing the quality of food, diversifying the menu, and sprucing up the look of the diner to a cleaner, crisper look. The bigger challenge, though, was to do this while at the same time reassuring customers, many who came in daily, that they were not losing their favorite neighborhood diner.  

The Larry Bradner seal of approval

Perhaps a sign that Meehan was successful is the continued patronage of 77-year-old Larry Bradner, who has been a daily customer for years. “Aside from Wayland Square Diner being a longer name, everything else is just fine,” he says. “Colin is a very good cook, and also a very good restaurant manager. He is interested in keeping customers well fed and always tries out new things.”

Bradner appreciates them continuing to make his signature order of banana bacon pancakes, and favorite fried liverwurst sandwich, for which he brings his own bottle of capers from home for them to add. For Meehan, that kind of continuity is key. “We have the same two waitresses that have been here for a while and the same dishwasher. It’s great because the old-timers who come in every day still have familiar faces and characters here, and that keeps the community sense of the diner, which I love.” 

Dot

One particular member of the Wayland Square Diner staff is waitress Dot Gilmore. Working at the diner for almost 30 years, she is known and loved by many families who essentially raised their kids going to Ruffuls for breakfast or lunch. Dot explains that many of her long-time customers were at first losing faith in the institution when they heard about the changes so she spent a lot of time convincing people that it would be okay. “People are distraught because they think they’re losing their favorite diner,” she says. “But I tell them not to worry - it’s still wonderful. And they should believe me, because I’m like the Bible when my mouth opens and shuts.”  

Dot describes the new improvements as successful.  Between the new floor, powder blue walls, and stylish new Wayland Square Diner polo shirts the waitresses wear, the whole feeling is just more “crisp”.  She sees more and more new people coming in every day, as well as the die-hard customers who are there on a daily basis. The menu features a wider variety of fresh food and a large selection, which Meehan says is a top priority for them. 

With a new name, look, and menu additions, the Wayland Square Diner is looking forward to continuing the tradition of the neighborhood diner but also excited for people to embrace the new changes. “It’s been ‘Ruffuls’ for 50 years so people will always think of it and refer to it as that,” says Meehan. “But over time it will hopefully start to become Wayland Square Diner as the new changes catch on.”

Wayland Square Diner, 208 Wayland Ave, Providence.

 

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