The long abandoned Carmel’s Diner on East Main Street in Amsterdam may see new life thanks to the efforts of Dave De Fazio and Mike Burbank, co-founders of Carmel’s Free Diner Inc, a non-profit organization with a plan to restore the historic location as a working market, diner and educational center. The project received a major boost today from St. Mary’s Hospital in the form of a $20,000 grant. The announcement was made at a press conference held at Carmel’s this morning.
De Fazio explained the overall purpose of his organization is to improve access to nutritious food in Amsterdam’s East End neighborhood. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the City of Amsterdam has been designated as a “food desert”, characterized by a combination of low income residents and limited access to grocery stores, most of which are located outside city limits.
De Fazio said he hopes to “work against that designation, and to provide not only food but healthy and affordable food in terms of groceries and prepared foods right here in the East End.”
Preserving the building as an important historic and cultural location is also part of the plan.
“I think a big benefit for the community and a big part of what we’re trying to do beyond the food issue is historic preservation…this is really a case of setting an example not just for the neighborhood but for the city and for other places – something that’s scale-able, something that can be replicated in terms of not letting blighted properties go to waste, not having demolition be the instant go-to. So there’s real economic development implications as well.”
The project is made up of three phases. The first phase is to rehabilitate one section of the building and operate it as a market and deli, selling fresh fruits and vegetables as well as prepared sandwiches. With the grant from St. Mary’s, the first phase of the project will still need an additional $30,000 to reach the estimated $50,000 total cost.
Phase two will be to open an educational center to provide culinary arts training to local youth and residents as well as to create a food business incubator, at which residents could experiment with food-based business ideas.
Phase three will be to operate a fully functioning diner and to “promote positive nutritional habits by serving healthy twists on classic diner dishes.”
De Fazio said that he and Burbank have been working to stabilize and clean up the building since they took possession of the property in January. He credited Montgomery County for providing a crew who cleared the parking lot of heavy brush earlier in the year. As well as seeking additional grants to complete the project, De Fazio said he plans to announce an online crowd funding campaign in early September.
In regards to today’s grant, Sister Joan Mary Hartigan , Vice President of Mission Integration at St. Mary’s Hospital said, “The funds used to support this project come from a grant we have received to improve outreach into the Latino community. The Carmel Diner initiative aligns perfectly with our efforts to expand our community health projects to reduce obesity and diabetes.”
Mayor Ann Thane said, “I just want to say how grateful I am for Dave and for Mike for coming into our community and immediately seeing what I have for many years, and many people here understand about our community, that there is so much potential, that there is great need but there is also great opportunity.”
Congressman Paul Tonko thanked De Fazio and Burbank, for their “leap of faith” in taking on the project and called it “a golden opportunity for this great community.”
Carmel Greco, who is involved with the project as a board member, has family ties to the project and brought several old photos of the diner from when it was in operation from 1912 to 1988.
“My father Vito came to work here in 1939 as a manager, and then he went off to World War II from ’42 to ’45, came back and then was the manager and the cook,” said Greco.
His parents, Vito and Nancy Greco, inherited the diner after the original owner, Greco’s grand uncle, Carmel J. Siciliano, passed away in 1956.
To find out more about the project, or to make a donation, please visit www.carmelsdiner.org.
(All photos by Tim Becker)