BENNINGTON — A Bennington College alumnus, who is in the process of acquiring The Blue Benn, said he intends to maintain the decades-old diner as is apart from introducing card payments.
John Getchell, 58, said he made an offer to purchase the diner late last week and gave a down payment Monday. On Wednesday, he met with owner Mary Lou Monroe to reassure her he intended to keep everything the same with the diner she and her late husband Sonny Monroe bought in 1974.
"The whole point of my venture is to maintain the continuity that's been there for the last 50 years," Getchell told the Banner in a phone interview Wednesday, "to honor the memory of Sonny and to honor Mary Lou."
The Silk City Diner car, which has been a Bennington fixture since 1948, is known for the menu specials Sonny Monroe created. The business and its associated property went on the market for $595,000 less than two weeks ago when Mary Lou Monroe, 77, decided to retire.
Meanwhile, Getchell, who lives in Maine, had never forgotten about his first meal at The Blue Benn in 1981. He had been in town as a prospective student at Bennington College.
"From that moment onward, I've always loved diners. I've been in diners all over the country, but I've measured every diner I've been in with The Blue Benn as the benchmark," said Getchell, who studied theater and music at Bennington College, graduating in '86.
When he heard that Sonny Monroe passed away in December, he told a friend in town to keep him posted about developments at The Blue Benn. A week ago, he heard it was for sale and immediately acted.
"It's been a bit of a whirlwind," he said Wednesday evening after driving back to Maine following his meeting with Mary Lou Monroe, her daughter Lisa LaFlamme and their realtor.
Getchell said he'd recently started making plans to transition back to the food industry from his business of renovating and restoring old houses. When he lived in D.C. after college, Getchell said he owned a catering business for about 10 years.
Because of the due diligence involved in acquiring The Blue Benn property and business, Getchell doesn't expect to officially own the diner till October or November. Once that happens, he intends to offer takeout and delivery, citing the diner car's small space amid the need to protect customers from the novel coronavirus.
He also plans to move to Bennington from his current residence in Arundel, Maine.
Mary Lou Monroe confirmed on Wednesday Getchell's plans to purchase The Blue Benn. They met for the first time on Wednesday, she said in an email.
"He told us he plans on keeping the diner the way it was with some new ideas planned for in the future," she said. "We are very happy for him and his team and wish him the very best of luck."
By springtime, once the weather warms up, Getchell plans to set up outdoor dining. He intends to keep the Monroes' Blue Benn menu. The diner's line cook of 23 years and two longtime servers will also be back, he said.
But one change Getchell does plan to immediately make is to do away with The Blue Benn's cash-only payment policy. He said this was the most common comment he has received since announcing his plans to take over the diner.
"Yes, we will take both cash and cards," he said.
July 23, 2020: This story has been updated to amend Getchell's age.