Mel’s Diner returns to University Ave.

The restored inside of Mel's Diner. (Photo by Justin Fauteux).
The restored inside of Mel’s Diner. (Photo by Justin Fauteux).

Late-night diners, rejoice.

Tuesday marked the return of local food favourite Mel’s Diner to its old location at 140 University Avenue West. Mel’s was a staple among students and locals until it burned down in April of 2010 in the now-infamous Campus Court plaza fire.

And after nearly three long years away, Tuesday couldn’t come soon enough for Mel’s owner Jerry Smith.

“This is something I always knew would happen,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of people that thought it wouldn’t, but to them I say ‘in your face, here we are.'”

Mel's Diner officially re-opened Feb. 19. (Photo by Justin Fauteux).
Mel’s Diner officially re-opened Feb. 19. (Photo by Justin Fauteux).

Mel’s officially re-opened at 7 a.m., serving up the breakfast that made the diner a K-W favourite since its 1995 opening. As the lunch rush moved in, Smith said everything was more or less “business as usual,” aside from some small glitches with the computer system, adding that the re-opening had been “very well received.”

The menu, the decor and even some of the staff is more or less identical to the way it was before the diner burned down, which is something Smith said was very important to him.

“We wanted it to be exactly the same. We wanted it to be everything everybody remembered,” he said.

A sign on University Ave. announcing the return of Mel's. (Photo by Justin Fauteux).
A sign on University Ave. announcing the return of Mel’s. (Photo by Justin Fauteux).

“It’s got everything but the old 16 years of character, but we’ll get that back over time.”

The now-infamous fire that claimed Mel’s broke out just before 5:30 a.m. on the morning of April 22, 2010. It was started when two men threw molotov cocktails into the windows of what was then Tabu Night Club and eventually spread throughout the Campus Court plaza at University Ave. and Phillip Street, destroying five of the mall’s business, including Mel’s Diner. Since then, details emerged revealing that Brent Campbell — former owner of now-closed Titanium Nightclub in Uptown Waterloo — allegedly hired Daniel Campbell and William Schneider to burn down Tabu to eliminate competition in the bar scene.

Daniel Campbell and Schneider pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including arson, in November of 2011. Schneider was sentenced to eight years in prison, Daniel Campbell received seven. Brent Campbell is still facing charges.

For people like Scott Bonilla, who worked at Mel’s throughout his time at the University of Waterloo, having Mel’s back is certainly a welcome sight.

“Not all the stores came back to this plaza, but Mel’s did. Mel’s is the cornerstone basically,” said Bonilla, who graduated from UW in 2008. “It’s great to see it back.”

Some who came out to welcome Mel’s back, didn’t get much of a chance to experience it before the fire.

“I only got to come here once before it burned down and I loved it,” said Jessica Smith, a University of Waterloo employee, who was enjoying some milkshakes with a co-worker. “In my sorority, it was always a tradition, going to Mel’s, so now it’s really exciting to be able to come back.”

While re-opening the original Mel’s has been Jerry Smith’s main goal since the day it burned down in 2010, the past three years has also seen him embark on some new projects. In July of 2011, he teamed up with Ethel’s Lounge owner Glen Smith and former Ethel’s employee Dan Moran to open Frat Burger across the street from Wilfrid Laurier University. And in April of 2012, he opened a second Mel’s location at 645 Westmount Road East in Kitchener.

“It was a bit confusing for a while having the two locations. People couldn’t understand that we were open when we weren’t open [on University],” said Smith. “So, yes, we’re open at Ottawa and Westmount, and we’re also open at University and Phillip.”

Mel’s on University Ave. will resume the diner’s old hours, operating from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 24 hours Thursday to Saturday, closing at 10 p.m. Sunday night.

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