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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dispute with church behind it, Nashua’s Jackie’s Diner is reborn as a mobile operation

NASHUA – After a public fight with its landlord – a church, no less – one of downtown’s landmark businesses has decided to hit the road – literally.

Jackie’s Diner, which closed after 13 years to make way for an expansion of the Main Street United Methodist Church, has become Jackie’s Mobile Diner. ...

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NASHUA – After a public fight with its landlord – a church, no less – one of downtown’s landmark businesses has decided to hit the road – literally.

Jackie’s Diner, which closed after 13 years to make way for an expansion of the Main Street United Methodist Church, has become Jackie’s Mobile Diner.

Mornings from Thursday through Sunday, you can see it parked at Greeley Park, where Carol Montminy and Eric Christensen dish out breakfast sandwiches, veggie burritos and the spicy Quebecois pork pate known as gorton, just as they did downtown.

“My office was right across the street from them,” said Nashua attorney Scott Flegal, who writes a column for The Telegraph, as he waited for his breakfast to be made on a chilly Thursday morning.

“My wife drove by and saw them, called me and said, ‘Jackie’s out there!’ I had to check it out.”

The shift into the growing world of the “food truck” by Jackie’s, which is named after Montminy’s mother, may not have been voluntary, but Christensen has been thinking about going mobile for a while, and the business partners say it shows promise.

Mobility allows them to go where the audience is – they’re lining up permits and permission to hit the big county fairs, Bike Week and other New Hampshire events – but with a different target audience than most food trucks.

“I don’t know of any that are offering breakfast,” Montminy said.

The mobile diner’s menu is virtually the same as the diner’s menu was, with some restrictions because of space constraints. The duo will continue to make virtually all of their own food – “no boxed.”

They’re setting up at Greeley Park 6:30 a.m.-noon Thursday-Sunday.

They’re being careful not to conflict with Jean’s Hot Dogs, which has sold lunches from a truck at the site for years. They don’t want any hard feelings, particularly since they’re still angry over the dispute with the church.

Jackie’s Diner was one of five businesses in a retail building owned by the church on Main Street near Pearl Street that were told last October that they’d have to leave by the end of the year.

The church plans to demolish the building for a big renovation and addition, which will connect the church to a historic building it owns next door.

It also will create green space.

The other four businesses in the building – Showtime Computers, Celebrations Catering, Tattoo America and Chuck’s Barber Shop – are still in business as they search for other locations, but Jackie’s shut at the end of 2013.

Nashua officials have also indicated interest in creating a link between Main Street and the city-owned parking lot on Spring Street.

As for the mobile diner, it is a model of efficient design.

A four-burner propane stove, freezer, refrigerator, steam table to keep things warm, three-bay sink, hand-washing station, fryolator, oven and 3-foot-wide griddle are all at hand, powered by a 5,500-watt diesel generator.

Christensen is at home in tight confines, having served as a Navy mechanic on submarines, another place where space is at a premium.

“That has come in handy already,” he said.

One of the attractions of the food truck business is lower initial cost.

Jackie’s Mobile Diner, specially ordered from a Florida company, cost around $35,000. By contrast, Montminy said, the commercial exhaust hood over the stove in the downtown diner cost $30,000 all by itself.

Employee costs are lower, since the downtown diner had six staff members, whereas Montminy and Christensen anticipate having to hire just one more person to help at busy times and locations.

Combined with the lack of rent, they said, the mobile diner can support itself with less wear and tear on the owners’ lives.

“We didn’t want to work seven days a week,” Montminy said.

That isn’t to say operating a mobile diner is easy.

Setting up in subfreezing temperatures gets old fast, they say, and then there’s the paperwork.

On top of the health certificates and inspections needed by restaurants, mobile food vendors need licenses for every location they’re visiting, plus the state’s charmingly named “hawker and peddler” license.

One other drawback: They only take cash, because on the move, they can’t be sure to have cellphone connectivity for credit card machines.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).