Did you know only six luncheonettes exist in Massachusetts? That’s certainly not an appetizing fact as these diner-like establishments — also known as soda fountains — were once the staple of the also disappearing local department and five-and-dime stores.
Fortunately, places like Ruthie’s Diner in Medfield, Mass., keep the spirit alive by staying true to its heartwarming, traditional dining roots. Located in the equally old-fashioned yet fabulous Lord’s Department Store (in business since 1940), Ruthie’s looks and feels like a true luncheonette — no doubt, because this spot has been an old-school dining icon in Medfield for many, many years.
For awhile, a gentleman named Lou from Coffee Sensations in nearby Medway, Mass., leased this luncheonette and stayed true to the tenets of a great soda fountain with some very good comfort food, quick and attentive service and the ability to converse with customers and remember their names. Unfortunately, he left the business and everything went downhill. The last time we went, the most recent owner seemed more concerned with her IPod than with us.
Fortunately, a local family took over the luncheonette in April 2012, and everything seems to have been brought back to life. Owner Michelle James, husband Chris, family and well-chosen staff clearly run Ruthie’s based solely on pride of ownership, and it shows up in the freshly made breakfast and lunch items, as well as the “brightening up” of the whole place through a nice paint job and a less cluttered-looking space. Her husband, Chris James, was a chef at the now-closed Ma Glockner’s in Bellingham, Mass. That was a fantastic restaurant, in business for more than 70 years, and we can’t help but wonder if Chris has brought some of Glockner’s culinary magic to Ruthie’s.
For the record, Ruthie’s is named after Michelle’s late grandmother, who, according to what we watched on the video above, was quite an inspiration to her granddaughter.
On my last visit, it was so nice to find all walks of local life here, from those that grew up with Lord’s to local business people and families looking for a great, cheap meal. The spirit seems to be back at the luncheonette at Lord’s, as there’s a spring in the step of those working there and an understanding of what made these soda fountains so popular in the first place. Most importantly, the customers seem to have a renewed interest in this charming, little luncheonette, saying something to the effect of “we’ll be back” and interacting with Michele like they were neighbors.
Ruthie’s will warm your heart and appetite, and it looks like the new owner is truly intent on bringing this landmark luncheonette back to its true form and spirit. It’s really a great place to grab a burger, coffee, pancakes and a slice of Americana!
Ruthie’s Diner is located at 446 Main St., in Medfield MA (about 35 minutes southwest of Boston) . Tel. (508) 359- 2361