Arts & Culture

East Side Creamery and Diner to close Nov. 21

As owners Paula and Dodd Francis prepare for Florida move, three offers for diner come in

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Though owners Paula and Dodd Francis originally planned to close East Side Creamery and Diner Friday, it will reopen for part of November.

“I don’t have any more. We’re all out,” Dodd Francis repeated to yet another customer. A handwritten “out of order” sign was taped to the frozen yogurt machine. Several cardboard boxes on the nearest shelf bore black Sharpie letters reading “send back.”

These little red flags were the only indicators of impending change at East Side Creamery and Diner. In three weeks, the Fox Point neighborhood favorite will close its doors.

Current owners Paula and Dodd Francis poured their “hearts and souls” into the restaurant, Paula said. East Side Creamery and Diner was originally set to close permanently last Friday, but the restaurant will reopen with limited hours Nov. 3 through 21 after the couple takes a brief trip to Florida, where they plan to relocate later this year.

Three potential buyers have approached Paula and Dodd, though no final decisions have been made, Paula said.

The connections the couple established in the community were evident as loyal patrons filtered in and out on the day of closing, some on the verge of tears. The notice on the door indicating a 5 p.m. Friday closing did not stop people from rushing in around quarter past five. The owners made no efforts to push people out.

“We’ve been told that we were a great asset to the neighborhood and to the area,” Paula said. The decision to move came suddenly, she explained, though the couple had always planned to retire to Florida, where Dodd lived for 12 years. After they relocate, they might consider opening up a new shop in Florida, she added.

Walking through the diner door, it is nearly impossible not to be seized by sensations of home — tile floors, small wooden tables with chairs, Halloween decor and the smells of home cooking wafting from the kitchen. Behind the counter stands Paula, a soft-spoken, pleasant-mannered, middle-aged woman dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans, a simple pendant hanging around her neck. Her husband bustles around the kitchen, his long silvery hair tied back in a ponytail and his white apron bearing no proof of many hours spent cooking.

The ping of a hotel concierge bell sounds over the chatter of diners, signaling to Paula that the food is ready as a dish slides through the window. A minute later, Paula presses the bell with the latest order for Dodd to whip up.

Inside the diner, the city disappears and gives way to a neighborhood eatery with a small-town vibe, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the fictional Luke’s Diner in the television show “Gilmore Girls.”

Dodd always dreamed of owning a little restaurant, he said. When the opportunity to purchase East Side Creamery arose three years ago, Paula and her husband leapt at the chance. It was mainly an ice cream shop at the time, offering a limited sandwich menu, but the two envisioned more — a diner with breakfast and an expanded menu — so they changed the name to East Side Creamery and Diner to account for the greater ambition.

“We wanted everyone to know it wasn’t just an ice cream shop, it was diner style — burgers, sandwiches, grinders,” Paula said with a thick Rhode Island accent, emphasized as she pronounced “grindahhhhr.”

The couple invested their “life savings” into the endeavor, she said, and soon the diner became a neighborhood favorite.  Paula quit her job of 17 years as a junior accountant, and with help from family members, the diner took off.  No outside employees were ever hired.

But even after the shop changed hands, the creamery maintained much of its original appearance. Paula said they added their own flair — “decorative plants and little cake plates,” enhancing the homey appearance and adding color and cheer. The couple also added pictures of their most celebrated dishes to the walls. They continued sourcing their ice cream from the original supplier, Bliss Bros. Dairy, a local dairy in Attleboro, Mass.

“Their ice cream is one of the best I’ve ever had,” Paula said. The shop featured popular flavors such as Graham Central Station, Moose Tracks and Salted Caramel Pretzel that the former Creamery owners had also served, in addition to 24 flavors of soft-serve ice cream. The menu expanded organically, incorporating popular daily specials and local favorites like Allie’s Donuts.

The couple also made sure to support the local community, obtaining all of their ingredients locally, Paula said, including beer from Maderia Liquors and meat from Gano Street’s Central Meat Market. They also cultivated a relationship with other restaurants in the area, like Ugly American, a burger joint that used to be across the street, and Bee’s Thai Cuisine.

“We would have that kind of relationship where we would help each other out whenever somebody needed something,” Paula said. “It’s quite the little neighborhood sharing back-and-forth.”

The diner also received unwavering support from its loyal customers — students and countless neighborhood families that the shop’s owners grew to know over the years.

“I’ve come to know them by their sandwich orders,” Paula said jokingly.

The afternoon of the formal closing brought customers old and new, some rookies wanting to experience the diner for the first time and others wishing to fulfill a final nostalgic memory of their favorite eatery.

“I just happened to walk by and see the closing sign,” said Julia Deng ’17, adding that she then convinced four friends to go with her. “It’s great ice cream and a really cozy environment,” she said.

Zach Korol-Gold ’15 and Tarek Shoukri ’15 are seasoned customers at East Side Creamery and Diner. The two said they live just down the block on Williams Street, and they frequented the diner routinely freshman year.

“We used to come here in the midst of winter to get ice cream every weekend, which made our friends laugh because they all thought it was way too cold for ice cream,” Shoukri said. They happened upon it after an evening at Ugly American, and Shoukri said he visited the diner most weekend mornings to purchase donuts.

Lifelong Fox Point resident Susan Cabral said she has been coming to the diner with her daughter Gianni and the rest of her family since its inception. “We would eat here almost every day.”

“It’s the best restaurant on this whole block and I’m sad because other people may buy it, but it’s never going to be the same,” she said. “I could cry, I am so sad.”

And while most reacted with sadness, 14-year-old Aaron Gomes, another local patron, said, “I’m mad. That’s it — just mad.” But the somber expression in his wide eyes betrayed his disappointment. “I’ve been coming here for three years after school, and I come to eat dinner on weekends sometimes with my dad, brother and sister.”

Nov. 21 will mark the final closing, Paula said.

“We take a lot of pride in our food and our service, and it has been a hell of a ride. It is sad to say goodbye,” she said.