New Bedford’s Beloved Shawmut Diner Remains ‘In Limbo’
Some of my earliest childhood memories involve the Shawmut Diner. I remember as a small child being taken to the diner by my Great Aunt Vina, who probably spent every last penny she had to treat me to lunch.
I remember that trip 60 years later, so I guess it was worth the investment.
In later years, I would accompany my youngest son Steven to the diner, where he would hold a collection can for his baseball team. The Shawmut Diner, located at the busy intersection of Shawmut Avenue and Hathaway Road, was a good location for "canning." Diner owners Phil and Celeste Paleologos were only too eager to help out.
The Shawmut Diner was built in 1953. Phil and Celeste Paleologos bought it in 1983. For years before joining WBSM, Phil would broadcast his nationally syndicated radio program for the Talk America Radio Network each weekday morning from the diner.
When Phil and Celeste decided to give up the restaurant business in March 2014, they donated the diner to the Bristol County House of Corrections in Dartmouth for use as a training program to teach inmates food industry skills that might help them after their release from jail.
Phil told the Standard-Times at the time, "We decided that rather than go the conventional route and sell the diner to an entrepreneur to take it over and give it a second life, we thought it would be more appropriate to give individuals a new beginning."
Six years later, the Shawmut Diner remains unused and on risers at the House of Corrections. The Bristol County Sheriff's Office has been unable to raise the necessary funds to realize Phil and Celeste's dream of an inmate training program. The Commonwealth has not viewed the project as a priority.
Public Information Officer Jonathan Darling tells me, "we're not giving up on it" but "we need mucho grant money."
"We were counting on asset forfeiture funds from a huge pyramid scheme one of our guys on the Ice Task Force helped out with, but it takes years to pay the victims back and split the rest up," he said. "Until then, we're in limbo."
"Celeste and I are patient because we realize how government moves at a turtle's pace. That said, anything we can do to help speed this up, we're willing to do," Phil said. "We have a win-win situation here for the inmates, and their future once out of incarceration. The weakest link is when people leave prison and employers are unwilling to hire them."
According to Phil, "we haven't abandoned the original intent of why we donated our historic diner, and I pray nobody else has either."
"My dream is to use the diner as a tool to help incarcerated people move forward upon release with a sense of accomplishment," she said.
The Shawmut Diner was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.