Iconic Northampton diner set to reopen under new name, ownership

By JACQUELYN VOGHEL

Staff Writer

Published: 02-04-2019 8:16 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Over the decades, the train car diner on Strong Avenue has been known under various names, including Red Lion Diner, Miss Northampton Diner, and most recently, Kathy’s Diner.

Now, the familiar sight is set to reopen under the name Familiars Coffee & Tea within the first two weeks of February.

While the 1930s-era red train car at the corner of Strong Avenue and Main Street is something of a local landmark, the site has sat vacant since 2013 when Kathy’s Diner closed. But in 2017, the restaurant’s new co-owners saw an opportunity to bring the train car back in business.

“We loved how much of a landmark it is,” said Danny McColgan, co-owner and operator of Familiars. “We loved the historical significance to this place. It kind of stands out and is super iconic and we wanted to be able to breathe a little bit of life back into it.”

“It was forgotten, but no one had forgotten about it,” said Isaac Weiner, McColgan’s partner and co-owner and operator of Familiars.

McColgan and Weiner, along with property owner Gary Perman, have been working toward the opening for about two years, completing major renovations to the local landmark’s interior while retaining its signature bright red facade.

Perman bought the train car from Kathy Tefft in 2013 for $250,000. Tefft owned and operated the diner under the name “Kathy’s” for over 24 years.

The new establishment will focus on coffee and tea, but will also offer food options such as lunch and breakfast sandwiches, bagels, salads and pastries.

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While the diner has gone through a variety of names and different ownership over the decades, it’s a familiar sight to everyone in town, McColgan said, ultimately inspiring the restaurant’s name.

“The idea is everyone is familiar with it,” McColgan said, “so instead of naming it Isaac’s, or Danny’s, we wanted it to be more generally familiar, and we actually thought of how great a word familiar is, and how many meanings it has.”

In addition to the train car’s status as a downtown Northampton staple, Weiner said that the name also represents an appreciation for regular customers, classic breakfast and lunch menu items and a “low-key witchy vibe.”

While relaunching the restaurant, McColgan and Weiner wanted to focus on “respecting the integrity of how iconic this place is,” McColgan said, while also offering an updated, “streamlined” diner experience.

The train car’s interior now features historic hardwood paneling from a Holyoke paper mill, reorganized counters and seats, two American with Disabilities Act compliant bathrooms and an ADA compliant ramp.

As for the menu, McColgan recognized that the establishment does not fill a typical full-service diner role, but said that he and Weiner were focused on creating a non-traditional diner experience while sticking to breakfast and lunch standards.

“There are lots of places in town for the niche and the obscure, and we want those places to flourish,” Weiner said. “They’re already doing it really really well, and we love going to those spots, but we saw a need for something a little more like lunch and breakfast staples, instead of those niche experiences that Northampton is notorious for.”

Although Northampton already hosts a number of coffee and tea shops, McColgan and Weiner aren’t worried about standing out from the competition.

“A coffee shop is a different bubble inside of it,” Weiner said. “It’s a different world, a different atmosphere, and while still recognizing that there are many of those in town, I think another place to go to study and do some homework is never a bad thing.”

For McColgan, answering to the abundance of coffee shops is even more simple.

“You can never have too much coffee,” he said.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.]]>