Geneva Diner

Staff at the Geneva Diner include, from left, Niek Vargas, Madeline Gonzalez, Arnoldo Litardo, and Luis Vargas Rivera.

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Luis Vargas Rivera says there’s no reason to mess with a good thing at the Geneva Diner, first founded in 1954.

Vargas Rivera, an attorney, said he and his family are making their first foray into the restaurant business, and have felt so welcome by customers and staff here as they take ownership of the Geneva Diner and seek to keep the business a neighborhood hub of delicious food and community conversation.

Originally owned by Anthony Gianfrancesco, the Geneva Diner at 1162 Douglas Ave. was purchased by Chris Spyridis in 2018. Spyridis has sold it to Vargas Rivera, his brother, also named Luis Vargas, and his mom, Tomasita Rivera.

“After meeting with the regulars, it was important for us not to mess with what works,” said Vargas Rivera, though they do intend to add some Latin flavor here at some point.

It was after finalizing the purchase when Vargas Rivera and his family learned from a regular at the diner that North Providence has one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in Rhode Island, which he said offers the perfect chance to add such items as carne ranchera, sancocho, and rice and beans.

Vargas Rivera said it was actually some of the regulars who approached the family and asked if they might consider adding some Spanish dishes to the menu.

Breakfast and lunch favorites will remain on the menu for as long as they own the diner, they said, including eggs, home fries, bacon, toast, pancakes, waffles, French toast, burgers and sandwiches, among others.

Regular customers are every bit as invested in the future of this small-town business as their family, said Vargas Rivera, the kind of people who come daily to get their “fuel for the day” and would then pick up dishes and bring them to the back to be washed if needed.

Cook Paula Grenier is one of those employees who knows everyone, said Vargas, and that type of relationship with the customer will continue to be important here.

His brother, who lives up the street, is a videographer, and his mom works for the Rhode Island Blood Center, said Vargas Rivera. Family members, including the brothers’ wives who are helping with the venture, are professionals in other occupations who decided to dive in together on the restaurant business, said Vargas.

The Geneva Diner offers breakfast and lunch Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. The restaurant is also a popular spot for fish and chips dinners on Fridays only.

It’s nice to know what works and just keep it going, said Vargas Rivera. People aren’t looking for fancy food or a perfect interior when they come here, he said, but to enjoy the character of an old-time diner and the good food it’s famous for.

He said the family does plan on giving back to the community as they settle in, and they’re excited to be part of an improving neighborhood where old mills, including the Geneva Mills, are being converted into modern housing and other redevelopment projects are happening.

A former independent candidate for state representative in Providence, Vargas Rivera, who was born in Puerto Rico when his parents were 20 years old, watched his parents work extra-long hours to provide for him and his siblings and put them through private school. A lifelong resident of Providence’s south side, he credits his parents with helping him be the first in his family to go to a four-year college.

Geneva Diner continues to be one of the cheapest diners for food anywhere in the state, said Vargas Rivera, but like other restaurants, is dealing with rising prices. The family wasn’t sure exactly how the market would change, but they’re making it work, he said, and is fortunate that the “business isn’t life or death to them.”

Family members, including their brothers and their wives as well as their mom, will all be working regular weekly shifts at the diner.

For some perspective on how prices are impacting restaurants, he said, a case of bacon in March of last year cost $40. That same case in March of this year cost $80, reflecting “significant price increases for some of the staple items.”

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