Before Martin Fremeth bought Mellos Diner, one of the city’s oldest surviving restaurants, he sat at the counter starting at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to see for himself what the place was all about. The first wave of hungry patrons arrived in workboots, construction workers fuelling up on bacon and eggs and cups of coffee before a long day of labour.
Next came the families with young kids — some of whom told Fremeth they used to come to Mellos with their own parents when they were kids. He watched as server extraordinaire Leisa Bell filled up cups of coffee for her daily regulars — all of whom she knew by name and by order — before they even sat down. At lunchtime, it was the suits — the business people and media personalities dropping in for their bologna sandwiches.
“A large part of buying a diner is you are buying the history,” says Fremeth, who runs a packaged firewood business in Montreal but always dreamed of owning a restaurant. Mellos reminded him of places he grew up with — food institutions like Schwartz’s and Wilensky’s — and he wanted to play a part in keeping this kind of business alive. He brought in his pal, also a passionate food lover, as a partner and they bought the diner. They offered Leisa a percentage of the business and asked her to continue to run the place as she had been doing for the past eight years. Her weekday shifts run from 4 a.m. until 2 p.m.