Guest Author - Brenda Potter Reynolds
The night of July 14, 2006, is one that Cindy Charles, owner of the Orwell Diner, will never forget.
"We were at another restaurant with family, and my son Darrick called," Cindy said. "He said that our restaurant was on fire."
They rushed to the scene, but by the time that they got there, it was all over.
Cindy and her sister-in-law/waitress Teresa Ward stood across the street, holding each other for support, as firemen finished wetting down the ashes. Family, friends and customers stood by with them. Cindy’s beloved diner had been totaled, but she had already decided to rebuild.
"There was never a doubt,"she said. "I had to, for the community, for the family, for everyone."
"My first thought was how soon can I start doing something?"
There’s not much besides houses in downtown Orwell. There’s the post office, and the town hall. There used to be a store, but that’s closed now. To the north of the four corners, there’s a Methodist Church and a volunteer fire dept.
The Orwell Diner was where people came to for meals and conversation. Townspeople and tourists, construction workers and church groups would sit at tables and talk to each other across the room. Lively banter and the latest news were served along with home-cooked meals and coffee. Like the TV show Cheers, it seemed that everyone knew your name at the Orwell Diner.
Cindy wasn’t only the owner: she was usually the cook, sometimes the waitress, sometimes a listener, always a friend. It wasn’t rare for a customer to give Cindy and Teresa a hug before they left.
So when the diner burned, it left a void in the town that was more than just physical. When the rebuilding began, the people of the town overwhelmed Cindy, Teresa, and the family with their generosity.
It began with help cleaning up the debris. It continued with help pouring concrete, putting up the shell, siding, woodworking, and plumbing. People donated their time and materials. A local church group held a picnic for the workers, and a dinner "shower" to provide supplies needed to reopen. People who didn’t even know Cindy brought spices, towels, paper supplies and other items. Others put together to purchase a commercial toaster, a meat slicer and other equipment. A photographer replaced the photos that had been on the walls. A local woman painted a scenic mural on one wall. Another woman raffled off a quilt to raise money for the construction.
Supervising every step of the rebuilding process and the strain of waiting until she could finally open the doors was exhausting for Cindy. It was a very happy day when she opened her new diner, and the customers came pouring in.
As a way of thanking the people of the community, Cindy held a free chicken barbecue at the town hall in October. The hall was crammed with people crowding around tables and enjoying the food. Cindy herself cheerfully dished out halves of chicken. It was a great way to show her gratitude, although most people would agree that it wasn’t necessary. Just re-opening the diner - the place to meet, eat, and socialize – was thanks enough.
The Orwell Diner is located smack in the middle of downtown Orwell. Their hours are 7 am to 2 pm, seven days a week.