Miss Flo’s Diner

Food, Hometown Cooking, Iconic Communities, On the Road
on January 7, 2001

Step into Florences diner and youre back to a time when cherry cokes were a mixed drink, Dean Martin was a heartthrob, and you could pay for a bottomless cup of coffee with a single coin.

Miss Flos has been the heart of Florence, Mass., since Maurice Alexander opened it in 1941. Alexander, who came from a family of Polish meat cutters, borrowed $5,000 from his father and bought the diner while on military leave. His brother Stanley manned the grill, and wife Pauline (middle name, Florence) managed the diner until Alexander finished his tour.

Manufactured by Worcester Lunch Cart Co. (WLC) in the 1940s, Flos is one of 16 surviving WLC diners. In 1999 it was put on the National Register of Historic Placesand its still in the Alexander family.

I remember hearing the grill sizzle and smelling burgers frying from our house behind the diner, says Tom Alexander, Maurices son, who began working there at 14. He and his brother, Mitch, now own and operate Miss Flos with business wisdom dished out by 76-year-old Uncle Eddie, whos at the diner by 11 each morning.

The village of Florence, part of Northampton (pop. 29,400), works hard to support Miss Flos and the standards of her time. There are no parking meters in Florence and only a handful of chain stores, notes Tom Alexander.

You go to Florence to get a hammer at the hardware store or a yard of fabric, says Wayne Feiden, Northamptons director of planning and development.

Florence thrives on its strong commercial center, and Miss Flos is at the core of a community where people know their neighbors and support local businesses, Feiden says.

Its the social center of Florence, says Kurt Brazean, goldsmith and owner of Murdoffs Jewelry, two doors down from Miss Flosand just six years younger. Brazean eats two meals there daily and loves both the home-style food and never knowing wholl come in while hes there. Tom Brokaw might come through the front door. People all over know about Miss Flos.

Florence wouldnt be Florence without Miss Flos, says Joan Trecartin, owner of Calico Fabrics a block south. She grew up in Northampton and cant remember a time without the diner, which she frequents to enjoy the bustle as much as the food.

Miss Flos has stayed true to her past. Her exterior colors are right out of a 1952 color palate. Inside, the arched ceiling cozies up to weathered oak trim and booth dividers stenciled with art deco patterns. Twenty chrome stools spin as customers pass through for everything from ham and eggs to peanut butter and bacon sandwichesan old-time favorite. The booths have Seaburg Stereo wall boxes. For a quarter, your three plays might include Dean Martin and the Silencers, Brenda Lee, or Bob Dylan.

Though much remains the same, the menu has made concessions to the times, offering egg substitute and herbal teas along with bacon cheeseburgers and banana cream pie. Still, all types come to Miss Flos: state senators, Hollywood actresses, the guy and his wife who live around the corner. Once you step through that door, though, everyone is on an even keel here, Alexander says.

Miss Flos history is linked like a sturdy chain. Ask Tom Alexander and hell lean back, smile, and say, Well, theres a story in that. Like waitress Rita Pruzynski who was surprised on her 40th anniversary at Miss Flos when regulars raised more than $1,000 for their favorite waitress.

Or Kelly Papineau, who came to Flos with her father as a child. I loved to watch Brownie cook and tell jokes, she says. Four years ago, Papineau became a full-time waitress. Theres a lot of support hereIm treated just like family, she says.

It must be true, because so many have marked 20 or 30 years there. Arnold Brownie Brown, in his 70s, has been short order cook for more than 20 years. Ina Kapitan, 79, Miss Flos night manager, has been a waitress for almost 30.

At Miss Flos, the coffee still flows like water, the grill is always smokin, and servers treat you well, but never any better than the next guy. Its slogan, dreamed up years ago, still rings true: Aint No Finer Diner.