Business takes off at Modern Diner after ‘Top Five’ win

Business takes off at Modern Diner after ‘Top Five’ win

Modern Diner co-owners Nick Demou, left, and Frank Aguiar hold the dish that won them a top spot on Food Network last week, Custard French Toast. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

PAWTUCKET – The staff at the Modern Diner may come back to earth, but owner Nick Demou and his team say they’ll enjoy the view while they’re on cloud nine.

The famous local diner’s appearance on the Food Network last week gave a jolt to the business like nothing in its 30-year history, said Demou, with patrons coming to the East Avenue restaurant in droves.

The Tuesday morning after the Modern’s custard French toast was featured as the top diner dish in the nation on the show “Top Five Restaurants” was a fairly typical day, said Demou. However, after one of his staff members showed him how word was spreading all day on social media sites, as people shared stories about the episode, he could tell Wednesday would be different.

The Wednesday rush brought at least four times the normal weekday volume, said Demou, requiring extra staff and plenty of food reserves to handle the rush.

“We’ve never had more business,” he told The Breeze. “Ever.”

Demou and co-owner Frank Aguiar typically see about 10 orders a day of their custard French toast, but there were more than 100 orders alone just last Wednesday. The dish remained popular throughout the week.

Demou said he doesn’t expect this kind of business boom to last, saying “you have to come back to earth,” but said the appearance on Food Network will only help the restaurant’s reputation going forward.

Seeing the power of all the positivity about his restaurant spread online, Demou said he couldn’t help but think of the damage a negative campaign against a restaurant could do with just a few initial shares on social media.

“This could crush someone,” he said.

One of the things that made him happiest last week was seeing a city that sometimes gets maligned for negative events receive so much positive press, said Demou. He and his wife, Gina, who heads up the X-ray department at Memorial Hospital, have always loved Pawtucket and the people who make it great. City residents have always supported his restaurant, said Demou, and that support has shown itself even more since the TV episode.

Demou said he was also happy to see his staff recognized for their hard work. The things that separate a diner like the Modern from others that fail often seem trivial, he said, but they aren’t. Customers immediately notice when bathrooms aren’t clean, when silverware sticks to the countertop, when there are fingerprints on the front door, and when servers aren’t friendly, he said, and many never return. The Modern succeeds as much on paying attention to those details as it does on its award-winning recipes, he said.

“It’s not just me making the food,” he said. “It’s all the parts of the restaurant.”

In last week’s episode of “Top 5 Restaurants,” hosted by Geoffrey Zakarian and Sunny Anderson, the Modern’s custard French toast beat out five other dishes for top diner dish in the country.

“For next-level breakfast indulgence, try the Custard French Toast at this historical diner. Slabs of Texas toast are dipped in an egg mixture laced with sweet and savory spices. Once fried, they’re dressed up with decadent finishes that include rum-spiked custard, raspberry syrup and candied pecans,” writes Food Network of the dish.

Demou said the dish was born out of an accident 15 years ago when he made too much vanilla pudding, so he thinned it down and served it as custard on French toast made from thick-cut Texas toast. The dish includes a topping of fresh strawberries, blueberries and sliced kiwi.

“I want to wish Nick Demou congratulations on gaining national acclaim and for the years of hard work he has put into this staple of the Pawtucket community,” said Mayor Donald Grebien. “The city is very proud that the Modern Diner is being recognized on such a large stage.”

The Modern Diner has been a staple of the Pawtucket community since 1941 when it was delivered to 13 Dexter St. It was manufactured in 1940 by the John B. Judkins Company of Merrimac, Mass., which manufactured Sterling Streamline diners from 1939-1942. Sources vary as to how many of the diners were made, but the highest estimate is 16. Currently, the Modern is one of only two known surviving Sterling Streamline diners still in operation. The other one, the Salem Diner, is located in Salem, Mass.

In 1978, the Modern became the first diner ever entered on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1986, the Modern was relocated to avoid demolition to its current location of 364 East Ave., in Pawtucket, where it has been ever since. At the time, the Modern, along with the land it is now located on, were both owned by the city. Owner Demou and his dad submitted and won the bid for both the diner and the land.

The Modern Diner’s Custard French Toast tastes as good as it looks.