BRYAN -- Like Dum Dum Pops and Etch A Sketch, Lester's Diner has been synonymous with the city of Bryan for almost half a century.
Now, the '50s-style diner -- whose 14-ounce coffee-cup sign was mimicked in the TV sitcom Alice -- is changing hands. Owners Norman Clock, 93, and his son-in-law Emil Mseis, 73, made the difficult decision to close Lester's May 30 and put it up for sale.
This week, a new sign went out front, telling passers-by that a Four Seasons restaurant was coming soon to the familiar location on South Main Street.
Mr. Mseis said Tuesday a tentative sales agreement had been reached with the owners of the Four Seasons Family Restaurant in Holiday City, just off the Ohio Turnpike in Williams County. Manager since 1971 and later part-owner, Mr. Mseis said he had a good run at the diner, but the seven-day-a-week schedule took its toll.
"The doctor told me, 'What do you want to do? Be carried away or enjoy what's left?' It was stressful for me, but I enjoyed it very much," he said.
Mr. Clock and the late Lester Bammesberger opened Lester's in Bryan in 1965. Mr. Bammesberger opened similar Lester's diners in Florida and Arizona, and the sign promoting the establishment's signature cup of coffee was featured as the backdrop for the fictional Mel's Diner in the sitcom Alice.
In Bryan, it provided a popular spot to snap a picture, although the coffee and food were draws too. Coffee was just 15 cents a cup when Mr. Mseis came on board in 1971; it was 99 cents when the diner closed this spring.
"It was a gathering spot for the whole town for years," said David Brown, owner of Transition Builders in Bryan. "I was in there so much I put out two fires back in the day when smoking was allowed and they'd put ashes in the trash bin."
Mr. Brown said he started going to Lester's in the 1960s, stopping every morning for an early breakfast and frequently returning for lunch, dinner, or a cup of coffee in the evening when he was working late. The diner kept him connected and informed.
"That was like the Internet back then because everyone in town would go to Lester's," he said. "I would be sitting with a farmer, a real estate developer, a lawyer -- you'd throw out a question at 6:30 in the morning and you'd get an answer you could trust."
David Frazer, president of the Bryan Area Chamber of Commerce and Mr. Mseis' son-in-law, said Lester's had a good location just a block from downtown and on the heavily traveled U.S. 167.
"A lot of travelers stopped there -- people going up to [Michigan International Speedway], tons of motorcycles," he recalled. "People would come here because of Lester's. That was kind of the thing to do."
Although Mr. Mseis declined to discuss terms of the proposed sale, Kim Schaffner, manager of the Four Seasons in Holiday City, said owners Chris and Dafni Manolas plan to rename the diner in Bryan as the Four Seasons and bring in the American-Greek menu from its other restaurants to Lester's. The Manolas also have restaurants in Defiance and New Haven, Ind.
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