The Tom Behind Tom’s Diner Looks Back On 20 Years At Denver’s Iconic Greasy Spoon

August 23, 2019
Tom Messina poses for a portrait inside Tom's Diner on East Colfax Avenue, North Capitol Hill, Aug. 15, 2019.Tom Messina poses for a portrait inside Tom's Diner on East Colfax Avenue, North Capitol Hill, Aug. 15, 2019.Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Tom Messina poses for a portrait inside Tom's Diner on East Colfax Avenue, North Capitol Hill, Aug. 15, 2019.

It's official.

Tom's Diner, the beloved greasy spoon on East Colfax in Denver, will likely be demolished and turned into high-rise apartments.  

For months, the diner has been embroiled in a debate over historic designation. But the debate ended last week when the group fighting to preserve it pulled their application out of consideration.

Now, owner Tom Messina has the green light to go ahead with his original plan of selling the building to a property developer. It was not an easy decision for Messina, but he said that much of his retirement is riding on the $4.8 million offer.

“If someone is willing to come up and pay me market value and keep the building here, I’d be thrilled,” Messina said at his diner shortly before the historic designation application was withdrawn. 

Martha Lotterberry, Denise Aquino and Asa Ingram eat breakfast at Tom's Diner on East Colfax Avenue, North Capitol Hill, Aug. 15, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Besides that skyrocketing market value, not much else has changed for the diner in the 20 years Messina has owned it. He said it’s an air of nostalgia that keeps people coming back. 

“I think it’s the stories, first dates, I met someone here, had a great night out and ended up at Tom’s Diner,” Messina said. “People would come here and say, is this the diner from ‘Pulp Fiction’?”

That day, Martha Lotterberry was dining at Tom’s for the first time with her two adult children. The family has lived in Denver for generations, and Lotterberry remembered what occupied the corner spot on Colfax before Tom’s Diner. 

“It used to be another restaurant, though, and my sister worked at it,” she said. “It’s been here for a long time.”

Lotterberry added that the interior decor looked different from what she remembered, but otherwise not much has changed about the place.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A scene from Tom's Diner on Denver's Colfax Avenue.

When Messina first drove past the building back in 1999, he said the restaurant looked neglected. It took a lot of work to get it to where it is today. 

“I can not tell you the hours I’ve slept in my office,” he said. “I’ve covered every shift, I know all the in’s and out’s of the business, and that’s the only way a small business owner ever makes it, is to live and breathe it.” 

But Messina is ready to put the work behind him. In the last few months, he said several times that he would be moving on from the diner regardless of what happened with the preservation application. 

And on the topic of whether or not he thinks the building is historic? Messina doesn’t see it. 

“When I drive around the area and I see a building with the stonework and built in the 1800s ... I say, 'Now that’s historic,'” he said. “This is one of 29 restaurants, they were mass produced in the ‘60s."

"This I feel is more about the nostalgia of just the people coming here and sharing a cup of coffee and having a good time.”