A local affair

  • Terry Peters Gray of The Chatterbox Diner serves up a veggie omelet with ham. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Terry Peters Gray of The Chatterbox Diner makes a veggie omelet with ham. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • A veggie omelet with ham that’s served at The Chatterbox Diner in Northfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 12/5/2019 10:30:15 AM

The Chatterbox Diner on Main Street in Northfield radiates coziness. This small, friendly eatery offers hearty breakfasts and lunches in an atmosphere of classic Americana.

For many years, Chatterbox Diner was a local hangout known as the Notch. The business was purchased earlier this year by Northfield resident Terry Peters Gray. Gray spruced the place up with new curtains and flooring. She also reconfigured the tiny kitchen to give herself more cooking space. 

She opened the diner in April. It welcomes customers every day except Mondays and holidays.

Gray began her culinary career as a dishwasher at Gould’s Sugarhouse in Shelburne, she recalled one recent day, and worked her way up to a waitress position. 

After a foray into retail, she got back into the food business through family connections. Her mother, Jean Wrisley, operated a traveling food wagon that served burgers, hot dogs, soups, and sandwiches.

When Wrisley had a health crisis about five years ago, Gray and her husband Dan took over the food business. They used a food-concession trailer Dan Gray spotted for sale on a visit to Florida.

“Then we decided we needed to own a restaurant,” Terry Peters Gray said.

The couple had frequented the Notch and knew its late owner, Kathy Crochier. Crochier had originally lined up another buyer for the business, but when that sale fell through, the Grays decided to take the plunge into the restaurant business.

“We were lucky to get the help that the Notch had,” Gray said. Most of her employees have been on the premises for years. She added a couple of new helpers, including her mother, who works four days a week and monitored our conversation closely. Dan Gray is also frequently on hand.

Terry Peters Gray explained that she made slow changes after purchasing the business, beginning with adding a few items to the Notch’s menu. “I have more salads,” she noted. The salads and wraps are probably her most popular lunch items, she said, and her generous omelets dominate breakfast orders.

Gray’s family is involved not just in the running of the business but on the supply side as well. Her burger meat and many of her eggs come from Graves Glen Farm in Colrain, provided by her daughter and grandson.

Gray’s favorite part of her new business is baking. All her muffins and doughnuts are made in house.

On the day of our visit she was experimenting with doughnuts she planned to fill with jam. They were baked in a muffin tin and resembled muffins in appearance. She is working on a name for these creations; she might end up calling them “duffins,” she decided.

Since taking over at Chatterbox Diner, Gray says she’s found the job harder than she had expected. The hours are long; her first regular customer arrives promptly at 6 a.m., and the diner stays open until mid-afternoon.

“In the beginning, I was really tired,” she told me. “I’m getting used to it.”

She explained that she would love a few more customers. Some of the Notch’s old customers are now eating elsewhere, in part because there was a gap in time between the closing of that eatery and the opening of the Chatterbox, and in part because Gray’s prices are slightly higher than the old ones.

She still has quite a few regular Northfield patrons, however, along with visitors from surrounding towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“They say it takes four years to get (a restaurant) going,” pronounced Terry Peters Gray. “I guess I’ll find out!”

Chatterbox Three-Egg Omelet

This is actually a combination of a couple of omelets on the menu at the Chatterbox. Terry Peters Gray said she was happy to put together special orders so she added ham to her classic veggie omelet for Paul and me. She noted that she doesn’t season her omelets, leaving that task to the diner at his or her table.

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped grape tomatoes

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped broccoli

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped mushrooms

1 small piece ham, cut into pieces

3 eggs

2 slices cheese (preference)

Combine the vegetables and ham in a bowl. Whisk together the eggs, and add them to the veggie-ham mixture. Grease a griddle or frying pan over low to medium heat.

Spread the egg mixture onto the heated griddle or pan, and place the slices of cheese on top. When the eggs begin to solidify, fold the mixture over. Press down lightly with a spatula to flatten your omelet and help it cook evenly.

The omelet is done, in Gray’s words, when it “doesn’t leak anymore.” Pop it onto a plate and add any extras you like. Serves 1 to 2. 

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.




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