There were only four occupied tables in the dining room, including two single diners eating alone. There was a time when this restaurant did a booming lunch business. What happened?
When Ira Auerbach and "Mama" Jan Imber moved into the renovated Nichols Lunch space in 2008 from their smaller former restaurant, Bell Street Mama's, at the corner of Bell and 39th Street, the business started promisingly enough. But a major fire shut down the restaurant on October 13, 2010, and it didn't reopen until July 7, 2011. That's a long time for any restaurant to be out of business.
The blackboard in the back of the restaurant, which usually lists the daily specials, has "All of Us" written in pastel chalk. "We were special," says Tammy. "We'll be saying goodbye to everyone on Sunday."
The irony of the Mama's 39th Street Diner story is that even though Auerbach and Imber cleaned up the 85-year-old diner (almost beyond recognition), it never really captured the loyalty of the patrons who loved and supported the grimier 24-hour Nichols Lunch. And you could always count on the line cooks at Nichols Lunch to do what they did well. The food at Mama's was almost always inconsistent: I could never get a burger actually cooked the way I ordered it.
Interior designer Scott Lindsay was once a regular at Nichols Lunch ("It was always so reasonable,"he says), but never a fan of Mama's: "I went to the first location on 39th and Bell, and that wasn't too bad, but it lost something when it took over the Nichols space. And the waitresses were so mean!"
Still, it's always bittersweet to see another independently owned and operated restaurant go the way of last year's more notable flame-outs: Jack Gage American Tavern, Sharp's 63rd Street Grill, and the original Peachtree Buffet.
It will be interesting to see what the third act will be for 3906 Waddell.