“A diner is like a best friend; it’s always here for you,” Mark Eldridge, owner of the South County trio of diners called Meldgie’s, explains.
In 2010, Mark was worn out from his work as a CFO in the corporate world. His best friend suggested Mark buy the River’s Edge Café, a longstanding diner on Main Street in Wakefield that had just gone up for sale.
With no food service background, Mark did a deep dive into the business with the café’s owner. That crash course made the transition between the two seamless. Two years later, he did the same with the Bonnet Shores location. Location three, on Point Judith in Narragansett, which Mark purchased in 2015, was not as simple.
“We opened after Hurricane Sandy,” he says with a rueful laugh. “We made zero sales the first two days.”
In a testament to Rhode Island’s affinity to the humble diner, the restaurant was profitable by its second year. Now it’s his fastest growing location. “Once the community realized we were there, they showed up,” he said.
The Meldgie’s menu includes diner staples like eggs, waffles, and French toast, as well as healthier options like egg white omelets and salads. Each location features their own daily specials, conjured by the cooks with input from the wait staff. The specials focus on seasonal treats, like peaches in the summer and pumpkins in the fall.
“Tastes change and you have to adapt to meet that while not alienating your core customers,” he explains. To keep up, they redo the menu every two years to keep things fresh, but only change 10 percent. “I don’t want to lose my regulars. My business is reliant on them.”
While the specials lean towards the decadent, the regular menu is “pretty old school,” featuring home-style comforts, like Johnnycakes and biscuits with sausage gravy.
Marks credits the success of the three locations to his staff, most of whom have been part of the Meldgie’s family for as long the diners have been in business. “Our River Café cashier recently retired at 82,” he says. “She was here when the original opened in 1986.”
“Coming to Meldgie’s is like going to your family’s house,” he continues. “We’re the tentacles that keep the community together.” Point Judith, Bonnet Shores, Wakefield