When you walk up the concrete steps lit by the red neon sign and push open the door, you walk into another world. The bar stools, red booth seats, and pies laying on the long counters turn a 1980’s kid into a 1950’s kid.The smiling faces of Theo Priest, and Castleton State College’s own Katelynn LaDuke and Jackie Borelli, might greet you at the door. And even though Priest has at least five decades on the students, Birdseye Diner brings them together, along with many town regulars like Bill Parled.
Parled has been coming to Birdseye five times a week for 10 years.
“It saves on cooking,” he says with a big grin.
He then turns around on his bar stool and looks out the tiny rectangular window.
“Just checking on my dog, he never takes his eyes off me when I’m in here,” he said.
Coincidentally, local entrepreneur John Rehlen has owned the Birdseye Diner for 10 years now. And he has no regrets about buying it.
“I enjoy the business. I get the chance to talk with people from the community, the college, and tourists,” Rehlen said. “It’s a happy place. The food is good, it’s a nice meeting place, the prices are reasonable. I think people like the diner as a structure.”
There has been a diner in that location since the 1940’s, but the name has changed over the years.
Originally known as the Birdseye Diner, it has been called Jim’s Diner, named for Jim Keith, and TJ’s Diner, when Tim and Jean Hayes were running it. Jean Hayes continues to be a part of the Birdseye working family today.
Borelli, a senior, has been working at Birdseye for three and a half years now.
“It’s close to home and my friends come to see me,” she said.
Priest and Parled both agree that it’s the good food and the socialization that brings college students and retired elders together in the once mobile Airstream trailer.
And regarding the food, Borelli can rattle off the daily specials by heart.
“Monday it’s chicken and biscuits, Tuesday is pot roast, Wednesday is the leftovers .” she said, trailing off.
But it hasn’t all been fun for diner waitresses like Borelli, who went on to detail the stresses of the job.
“I quit for six months; I had a nervous breakdown,” Borelli said laughing. “I had nightmares. The food would be across the street, and I’d have to cross the street to bring the food over. Because it’s a diner, it was stressful and fast paced!”
While the grease sizzles from the kitchen and Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” plays from the speakers, Priest talked about why she still enjoys waiting tables after all these years.
“I love working with people. It’s never dull and I learn something new every day,” she said.
And for parting words of wisdom, Borelli reminds that the waitresses aren’t simply there for fun.
“Don’t be afraid to tip 20 percent!” she said with a wide smile.