MERIDEN – Everyone is considered family at Tom’s Place in South Meriden.
“We know everybody that comes in here,” owner Tom Caliendo said. “It’s like their second home.”
The longtime Meriden resident opened the diner in 1981 after previously living above the space while it was a different restaurant.
“I got customers still coming in since I started,” he said.
A wall in the diner is devoted to beloved customers that have died, with their obituaries and pictures taped to a shelf.
In the early years the diner, 55 Main St., opened up at 3 a.m., two hours before its current opening time of 5 a.m.
“By 4 o’clock in the morning this whole street would be lined with garbage trucks and milk men delivering milk,” Caliendo said. “They don’t do that stuff anymore.”
While the Main Street area of South Meriden has become more developed and populated in recent years, to some, Tom’s Place is a step back in time.
“We’re dinosaurs,” Caliendo said. “When I went to school we had a place where we hung around like a restaurant like this. They’re gone.”
The diner serves classic breakfast and lunch dishes like eggs, toast and sandwiches. Everyday there is a special item, like pasta with meatballs or a chicken parmesan sandwich.
Resident David Bowen, a longtime regular customer and city crossing guard, said he can’t pick one single favorite off the menu. He visits nearly everyday for breakfast or lunch.
“All my friends are here,” he said.
Caliendo’s daughters run the diner now.
When she’s not serving up breakfast and lunch and making sure her father’s place is running smooth, April Ouellette is busy keeping the planters on the street full and blossoming.
“I plant those from seeds from my house,” she said. “I water them every couple days, all that is all part of this.”
“Sit wherever you want,” she added, as more customers came through the door.
Ouellette has been working at the diner since she was 13.
“It’s always nice to see the same faces everyday,” she said.
The white board in the back, just behind the corner where Caliendo likes to play a hand of cards during the late-morning lull, is a list of upcoming friend and family birthdays. Community reminders and event flyers are also posted.
“We’ve seen a lot of people come through the door,” Ouellette said. “We know their families, they know us.”
Customers can eat at the counter while bacon fries a few feet away on the grill or they can sit in the back dining room and watch through the window as cars drive by.
The front porch also offers space to dine surrounded by American flag banners and plants in the summer.
“(Cusomters) got a problem, the girls will talk to them about it,” Caliendo said. “We’ll feed someone if they’re hungry, we’ll never put someone out. That’s just how we are.”