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Blue Benn planning to reopen on Valentine's Day

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Blue Benn - new owner John Getchell

John Getchell, 58, takes a break from planning the reopening of the Blue Benn while at the diner in Bennington on Jan. 12. He has since installed plexiglass dividers between the booths and along the counter.

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Editor's note: After this article was published, the owner pushed back the opening date to Feb. 16 or 17, because of delays in the delivery of some equipment.

BENNINGTON — A returning resident has a Valentine’s Day gift for Bennington: reopening its historic Blue Benn diner.

John Getchell, who became the diner’s new owner just before Christmas, is planning to start serving customers on Sunday. “A Valentine for the town,” Getchell, 58, said while finishing the restaurant’s deep cleaning last week.

Loyal customers shouldn’t see a lot of changes from how the restaurant looked a year ago — before the pandemic led Mary Lou Monroe to selling the 72-year-old establishment. The Blue Benn’s layout, furniture and some staffers will remain the same, as will the menu.

The new management will start out by offering all the old breakfast and lunch dishes, and most of the specials created by Mary Lou’s late husband Sonny Monroe. It will be open seven days a week, from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Getchell is aiming to serve dinner by springtime, once the coronavirus infection rates are lower and tables can also be set up outdoors.

Helping bridge the past and the present is the return of six previous Blue Benn staffers, including its head cook and three servers. And for the many who’ve been asking, yes, the jukeboxes atop the dining booths will remain.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Getchell said of his plans for the 1948-made Silk City Diner, “and nothing’s really broken.”

CONTEMPORARY DINING

Getchell, a 1986 graduate of Bennington College, first set foot on the Blue Benn three decades ago, a prospective student at the college. He remembers ordering the Sir Ben Omelet, a customer favorite made up of chicken, mushrooms and cheese.

“From that moment onward, I’ve always loved diners,” Getchell said in July, after he’d made a down payment on the Blue Benn. “I’ve measured every diner I’ve been in with The Blue Benn as the benchmark.” He moved to Bennington from Arundel, Maine, after taking over the business.

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Unknown to many, the diner has a basement, which houses both a walk-in freezer and cooler plus shelves of cooking supplies. “This is the guts of the diner, down here,” he said while giving the Banner a tour of the basement in mid-January.

The Blue Benn, which has been a town fixture since 1948, has a capacity of 62. But because of the current need for social distancing, Getchell will limit indoor dining to 20 people. He has also added plexiglass dividers between the booths and along the counter.

Getchell, who intends to be at the diner every day, said he will be strict about implementing the state’s coronavirus safety protocols. This includes customers’ wearing a mask whenever they’re not in their seats. “I will kick people out or refuse them service if they insist on not wearing a mask,” he said, explaining he doesn’t want his workers or customers to get ill with COVID-19.

The diner will offer masks to those who don’t have them. Besides having printed menus, it will also make the menu viewable online (through a QR code), so customers can limit their contact with shared objects.

CARD PAYMENTS, WEBSITE

As Getchell previously said, he will accept card payments on top of cash. Through a brand-new website that will launch midweek, bluebenn.com, customers can also order and pay online for pickup, carryout or delivery.

The Blue Benn is working on getting a liquor license to eventually serve locally crafted beer, wine as well as mimosas on weekends. “We have no intention of becoming a bar,” Getchell said, “but I don’t see why we shouldn’t serve beer.”

Blue Benn merchandise, such as mugs, T-shirts, caps and specially concocted condiments, will follow.

Once people can safely gather in large groups again, Getchell said he will organize a formal, grand opening for the diner. Nobody knows yet when that time will come, but he promised: “I will throw an incredible party!”

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.


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