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Spring 2002

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Extended Family

PROFILE: DINER CHIC

by Ben Barnhart

Jim and Susan Tourtillotte
TATTOOS, EARRING, BRIEFCASE, AND EVERYBODY GETS ALONG: Jim and Susan Tourtillotte '85 in their Hadley Sitdown Diner. (photo by Ben Barnhart)
JIM AND SUSAN TOURTILLOTTE BUILT their dream in a parking lot. The Sitdown Diner, that glistening stainless steel retro restaurant that seemed to sprout suddenly on the Hadley Super Stop & Shop tarmac a year ago, is the entrepreneurial baby of these college sweethearts and fellow members of the HRTA (Hotel, Restaurant, and Travel Administration) Class of ’85.

Don McLean’s “American Pie” wafts from the jukebox, harmonizing with the tinkle of spoon against coffee cup, as the beaming Tourtillottes sit side-by-side in one of the Sitdown’s red upholstered booths, describing their fondness for diners.

“Diners erase all social boundaries,” says Jim. “You can have a truck driver beside a professor beside a student and they’re all talking about the Patriots. You’ve got the tattoos and the earring and the briefcase and everybody gets along.”

A survey of the early lunch crowd supports his view. A woman and her young, squirming son sit on swiveling counter stools; an elderly couple is in the next booth; a group of students chow down a late breakfast in the dining room.

If you overlook its spotless sheen and the perpetual smiles of the waitstaff, the Sitdown closely resembles an authentic, if enlarged, ’40s eatery. But the Tourtillottes have added a healthier menu (while still offering typical diner fare like meat loaf, milk shakes, and, of course, breakfast anytime) and the hospitality of a five-star restaurant.

“We’re not your typical greasy-spoon diner. We’re not just service, but hospitality, too,” Susan says before excusing herself to cash out a customer.

The Tourtillottes do exude hospitality, a trait they say was instilled during their years at UMass, and later as hospitality industry professionals. Their style is diner-appropriate: While constantly mindful of customer satisfaction, they’re not so stuffy that they can’t trade barbs with the regulars. It’s all about making people feel at home, they say.

The Tourtillottes, who live near Hartford with their two young sons, split time between the Hadley Sitdown and another in Danbury, which they opened in 1999. With more diners possibly on the way, Jim says they’d like to build not a chain of restaurants, but a collection.

“A chain is sterile, a chain loses personality,” Jim says. The Sitdowns vary in look and feel, with the Danbury diner showing more of a ’70’s style. The owners’ goal is to “keep the food consistent, but differentiate with personality, energy, and decor.”

The Tourtillottes started thinking about diners ten years ago in Philadelphia, where Susan was director of sales for the Great Valley Hilton hotel and Jim was vice president of a company that managed several restaurants. As they put together a business plan, they discovered Coleman Industries, a company that specializes in modular construction and has been building diners for 75 years.

When they showed their plan to HRTA’s Frank Lattuca (see page 22), under whom they’d studied at UMass and who’d often invited Jim to address his classes, they found he had the same idea. “We pulled out our Coleman folders, and Frank pulled out his Coleman folders, too,” says Jim with a laugh.

The capstone of the plan was naming their nascent collection of diners. This is a college-sweetheart story too.

Back when they were UMass students, Jim promised Susan he’d name his business after her, he says. And that’s how they came to be known as the S(usan)I(goe)T(ourtillotte)-Down Diners.


[top of page]

UMASS GATHERINGS:Rallying the troops

SOUVENIR: library memories

PROFILE: The Lyons Family

PROFILE: Jim and Susan Tourtillotte ’85

PROFILE:Jeff Donovan ’91 and Kate Wilson ’89

NO-DOZE DAYS - HOW YOU STUDIED

IN MEMORIAM

Obituaries: 1914-1949

Obituaries: 1950 - 1969

Obituaries: 1970 - 1989

Obituaries: Faculty

RALLYING: Larger image

SOUVENIR: Larger Image

LYONS FAMILY: Larger image

DINER CHIC: Larger image

STAGE PRESENCE: Larger image


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