MERIDEN — Alan Giacco cracks the first egg of the day at 5 a.m. when the early risers and first-shifters make their way to his north end diner.
“I’ve seen so many generations of people come in here,” Giacco said. “The demographics have changed. I had to learn French when I first came in here.”
Alan’s Cup n’ Saucer Restaurant celebrates 35 years this March in its home at 443 Colony St.
The anniversary is bittersweet for Giacco, who put the building up for sale but is holding off for the right buyer.
“I’m looking to retire,” he said. “I’m heading into my 60s, I’ve been cooking since 1975. I’ve had different people come in and want to buy, but they did not meet my expectations.”
Giacco said he wouldn’t mind holding on to the building if he can get the right person to run the diner.
“I definitely wouldn’t mind staying as the landlord,” he said.
Customers at the counter Monday ordered their eggs and sandwiches from Julie Hourigan, a 28-year veteran waitress. Most of his employees have worked in the eatery for more than 25 years.
“We come for the atmosphere,” Bill Conant said. “There’s the banter and everybody knows your name. You always walk out with a laugh.”
Conant and his wife Carol Conant opened Marketing Graphics next door two years ago, and have been regulars of Alan’s ever since.
“You’re always greeted with a smile and the food is good,” Carol Conant said.
In between fixing Al’s Special — eggs, choice of meat, home fries, toast and a pancake — Giacco takes the time to joke with his customers. He also makes lunches and steamed cheeseburgers, which anybody who cooks in Meriden “would be crazy not to do.”
Giacco cooked at the former Jacoby’s Restaurant on East Main Street, and received an associate’s degree in hotel/motel and restaurant management at Manchester Community College. He managed a Friendly’s Restaurant, and he and his mother opened a small diner on East Main Street.
Then Giacco went solo in a neighborhood where there were hundreds of workers in nearby factories who liked to come in before or after their shifts. There were also four diners in the area.
“In the ’80s and ’90s, we had factories, Walbro, Napier,” Giacco said. “A lot of businesses went out during the recession.”
Despite the downturn, Giacco has no shortage of customers and the place is often busy until 1 p.m. when he leaves for the day.
“The food is really good,” said Mark Moynihan, another regular who stopped in with his wife Kim Moynihan. “You can’t beat the price. I come here with my boys on Saturday. It gives me a place to bring the kids.”
Giacco is concerned about the future of mom and pop diners, because of the large chains. He notes the recent closure of three restaurants in the city.
“Nobody wants to work that hard,” Giacco said. “They want to order a number 4 at Five Guys and a number 2 at McDonald’s. They find this place because of their parents.”
Giacco looks forward to the days he won’t have to turn the lights on in the dark before dawn and cook non-stop for others. He hopes to retire with his wife of 37 years Sharon Giacco, and said he’ll know what he wants to do when the opportunity presents itself.
In the meantime, he’ll wait for the right buyer or tenant, who will operate the business the way the regulars have grown accustomed to.
“It’s hard. It’s a labor of love,” he said. “You have to have the love for it. If you don’t have the love for it, you won’t survive.”
Alan’s Cup n’ Saucer is open from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturday and Sunday.