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Up Close with Jeff Toste, Director of Haven Brothers Documentary

Saturday, March 08, 2014


The iconic Haven Brothers Diner located on Fulton Street in downtown Providence.

From the Superman Building to the Arcade, there are several local landmarks that are synonymous with the rich history of downtown Providence. In addition to these iconic buildings, there is another, more mobile structure, which has been a Providence mainstay for over 125 years: the Haven Brothers Diner.

Founded in 1888 as a horse drawn food wagon, the Haven Brothers Diner is one of the oldest restaurants on wheels in the country. Not only locally recognized, the famous food truck has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food Nation, and has even made its way to mid-town Manhattan for an appearance on the Today Show.

Due to its rich history and current popularity, it’s no wonder that local filmmaker Jeff Toste decided to capture the diner’s history on film in 2010. And now, over three years later, Toste has completed his documentary entitled Haven Brothers: Legacy of an America Diner, which will be released this summer.

With this in mind, GoLocal caught up with Toste to discuss the evolution of the project and what this local landmarks means to the city of Providence.

A Conversation with Documentary Filmmaker Jeff Toste

What inspired you to want to make this film?

I love Americana.

Why did it take three years to complete?

I was turned down for grant money. My Kickstarter failed. I couldn't find reliable help. I did, however, eventually find Ken Chappell, who was a huge help on interviews and 2nd camera. So I mostly worked solo, including extra hours to raise the funds for needed equipment. And/or had to turn down work to make the time to edit. Nothing good comes easy.

What's the focus of the documentary?

The story centers around the fact the diner was almost lost to Providence's transformation from a "smudge on the map" in the 80's, to the "Renaissance City" of today. Much of the city's history did not survive, but Haven Bros. did thanks to public outcry. In the words of Umberto Crenca of AS220, "What would be missed?" It boggles the mind that something so important to people can be erased.

What has Haven Brothers meant to Providence?

M. Charles Bakst, retired reporter from the Projo said it best when discussing what Providence would be without Haven Brothers stating, "It would be a hole in the soul of the city." Additionally, it is part of the "authenticity" of Rhode Island. We are the birthplace of the diner. Beyond that, people have a love affair with this place. And many of those people are characters as unique as the diner itself.

What are some of the most interesting things you learned while making the film?

It may be the first diner owned by a woman in a time when women could not even have custody of their own children.

I read that you've been entering the film into festivals. How has that experience been thus far?

Actually, I am still deciding what festivals if any I will enter. I have no money or means to get to them. Many folks don't know it costs more to promote a film than to make it. Festivals can get you exposure, but they don't pay unless you win the "distribution lottery."

What’s the main thing that you want viewers to take away from the film?

A good story about a unique place in earth. It was a privilege to tell the story of Haven Brothers and I hope I have done it justice.


For more information about Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner, including forthcoming release date information, visit the film’s Facebook page.

EDITORS NOTE: an earlier version of this story did not identify a $5,000 pre-production grant that this project received from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities in 2011.


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