A proposal to revitalize the Salem Diner places it on top of a roof

“When you hear somebody say, ‘What if we put a diner on the roof?,’ it definitely piques your curiosity."

A rendering of the Salem Diner on a roof in downtown Salem.
A rendering of the Salem Diner on a roof in downtown Salem. –Courtesy of Erik Sayce

The next era of the Salem Diner may begin with it literally soaring to new heights.

The only proposal submitted to Salem State University, which owns the diner, via a request put out in July, seeks to buy the historic diner, move it off university-owned property, and, with the help of a crane, hoist it to the roof of 10 Derby Square. The plans were submitted by a group of Salem businesses — Erik and Jennifer Sayce, a couple who own Goodnight Fatty, a cookie business; Michael Sperling of Sperling Interactive, a marketing company; and Robert Mazow of Mazow and McCullough, a law firm.

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For the diner, the literal rising would be a resurrection, the beginning of a rebirth. But it also brings back a beloved Salem staple, one that Erik Sayce remembers visiting while a student at the university, he said. If all goes according to plan, the diner could be serving customers again by next June, just as it’s done for most of the last 80 years.

The proposal is the culmination of creativity and brainstorming, and the partnering of three businesses that all operate out of the building that would serve as the diner’s new landing pad.

“We had kind of thrown around some ideas with the diner, but the land costs alone of anything that’s available in Salem was prohibitive to say the least, so we had kind of written the whole project off and the idea of finding something to do with the diner,” Erik Sayce said in a recent phone interview with Boston.com. 

Then Sperling imparted the idea that stuck.

“He said, ‘Well, what if we put it on the roof?,’” Erik Sayce recalled.

Goodnight Fatty is a weekend popup open on Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at 1 Washington Square and in an alleyway behind Rockafella’s. The Sayces use one of the Derby Square building’s conference rooms for the business, Erik Sayce explained.

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“When you hear somebody say, ‘What if we put a diner on the roof?,’ it definitely piques your curiosity,” Erik Sayce added.

Fast forward to having an architect draw what the roof could look like with the diner atop it, plus having an engineer say the roof could support the diner and its patrons with some “minor adjustments to the support beams,” according to the proposal, and the idea became a possibility.

The reopening of the diner would come with a mix of old and new on the menu.

“As of right now, I think we’re going to have an underlying menu of homage to the diner itself and have that be the standard,” Erik Sayce said.

But the group also wants to help incubate ideas from food entrepreneurs, like the Sayces are. “We’re calling them seasons where we would be able to give someone the opportunity to test their concept at the diner,” he said.

The diner would also be renovated — the classic interior with its chrome would stay, but the “kitchen needs some love,” Jennifer Sayce said.

The roof affords the opportunity for deck space surrounding the diner. The diner itself seats 49 patrons, but deck seating would bring that capacity to 150, according to the proposal.

At some point, the Sayces say they want to sell their cookies at the diner, too.

“We haven’t completely fleshed out the details of how we’re going to utilize the kitchen and the space, but I think we’d love to sell some cookies out of the diner at some point,” Jennifer Sayce said. “I think that’s a bucket list item for us.”

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