Monday December 31, 2012

LEE -- Two sisters plan to usher in 2013 as the new owners of the venerable Joe's Diner, a popular stop for politicians, celebrities, as well as locals, for nearly 60 years.

Heather Earle and Shelly Swindell from Shelburne Falls are buying the iconic eatery in downtown Lee, the sale expected to officially go through within the next week, according to the siblings and diner's current owner, Pam Langlais.

The three women didn't disclose the purchase price, pending completion of the sale.

After today, Joe's Diner will close for at least a week, allowing Earle and Swindell to spruce up the interior, with an expected re-opening date of Jan. 8. The sisters say they will undertake a more extensive renovation, such as a new counter, stools and tile floor once they are settled in.

The two women plan to keep the 10 full- and part-time employees at the diner and remain open seven days a week.

While first time restaurateurs, Earle, 40 and Swindell, 43, each have 20 years food service experience, including 10 years working for their mother's catering business. The last several years the sisters have worked at the Foxtown Diner in Shelburne Falls., where they credit the owner for showing them the ropes of running a diner.

They vow to maintain Joe's hometown atmosphere.

"It's going to be a challenge, because people are used to things a certain way, but we plan to add our own touch," Earle said.

And that begins will more homemade dishes people come to expect from diners.

"I'm known for my homemade soups and potato salad," Swindell said. "I'm like the 'Soup Queen' at Foxtown, so my the customers are devastated I'm leaving."

Joe's Diner debuted in March 1955, when Joseph Sorrentino, Sr. bought the former Happy's Diner. The Lee native and high school sports standout, with the help of his wife Theresa and eventually seven children, turned the once unknown eatery into a destination for tourists -- some famous -- and locals alike.

Autographed photos of actor John Carradine, father of actors David and Keith Carradine, U.S Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and other celebrities have remained on the walls since Sorrentino retired in 2001. He sold the diner to Joe and Pam Langlais, with the Joe mainly at the helm until his death in March 2011.

"This was all Joe's, but I couldn't move on until I found a buyer," Pam Langlais said. "These people are like family and I couldn't close, leaving them without jobs."

Langlais is pleased to have found new owners, each with grown children, ready to tackle the hard work and long hours necessary to please hundreds of hungry patrons who frequent Joe's.

"This diner pretty much runs itself," she said. "As long as they stay consistent, people will keep coming."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.