Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.
Arthur Valentine was an entrepreneur. He wanted to do things his way and he wanted others to be able to as well.
In the 1930s Valentine, a salesman from Kansas, had a plan.
According to the Kansas Historical Society, Valentine had opened a series of lunch establishments in and around that state. He had a relationship with the Ablah Hotel Supply Company that manufactured small, portable lunchrooms. Valentine began selling for Ablah while operating his chain of restaurants. When Ablah wanted to get out of the business of constructing metal buildings, Valentine took over.
This was right before World War II and the resulting material shortages proved problematic. Things changed in 1947 and the Valentine Manufacturing Company was born.
The Valentine Diners were simple and small, designed to be moved to their final destination by truck. Valentine, who himself had wanted to be his own boss, promoted the benefits of working for yourself in his marketing material:
“The individual operator is assured of a permanent, self-sustaining revenue where he becomes his own boss and is not subservient to someone else. His immediate family may assist in the operation of each unit, as only two operators are required on each shift when it is running to capacity. During slow periods of business, one operator can do all the work and give good and efficient service, thereby holding the overhead to a minimum, with corresponding high profits.”
Owner/operators could pay over time. A wall safe was built in to some of the units so they could put a portion of their profits aside to make payments on the building. The traveling Valentine rep who would visit the site would be able to reach in and remove the scheduled payment.
Eventually Valentine became ill and pulled back, working as a consultant for a few years before his death. His company continued until it was sold in 1957. The basic structure bred other buildings such as car washes and drive up bank buildings. They ceased operation in 1975.
Over time, the prefab buildings were sold all over the country. Out here apparently if you went to a White Tower (no, not White Castle. I’m not going down that road) you’d be in a Valentine building.
Nashua’s Rex Gaudette was an entrepreneur, too. The last owner of the Buffet Restaurant on Canal Street, wrote a comprehensive note outlining his family’s Nashua businesses.
Emile and Sylvio Gaudette had bought a diner at 119 W. Pearl Street in Nashua and named it the Buffet Lunch. Emile’s wife Eva started a successful catering business but that too hit a road block during the war. Later, it’s name was changed to the Buffet Restaurant.
“In 1960 the Armory Grill was for sale,” writes Gaudette in a handwritten history sent to me by a friend.
“The Buffet group bought it preparing for the future,” wrote Gaudette. “By 1965 when the Buffet Restaurant on W. Pearl closed the Canal Street restaurant was well established. In 1968 the large, well equipped kitchen was added and some catering was resumed.”
“In 1974 the restaurant added 20 dining room seats and a full liquor license. Salmon, pork pies and Buffet Baked Beans to take out were featured and this was good as this business did not take up any seats” he wrote.
They sold the restaurant in 1984. It went through a series of other owners offering other kinds of foods but the place fell into disrepair.
Enter Nancy and Lenny Abreu, entrepreneurs.
They bought the place a few years ago. They put lots of time, effort and money into bringing the place up to speed and transformed it back to a 1950s-style diner.
Between rushes recently, Lenny came out of the kitchen to visit. He walked into the dining room, opened the lid of the AMI Lyric jukebox and put on Frankie Avalon’s song “I’m Broke.”
His wife had wanted a place like this, he said. Lenny told me he was in corporate food service when he decided to chuck the nonsense and left. They brought on some loyal and hardworking employees with them. Now there are a half dozen or so people in the crew.
Parts of the original old building can be seen inside. A curved portion in a kitchen wall, the metal floor, the original freezer and wooden trap door into the basement all hint at the original prefabricated construction.
“I want to enjoy our lives,” Lenny told me. “I enjoy our guests. I enjoy talking to people and it’s ours. We’ll be here for years.”
I think that would have made Arthur happy.
Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or DHimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Don on Twitter @Telegraph_DonH.