Correction: The diner has had multiple names over the years. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that it had been known as The Red Baron Diner since 1958.
SOUTHBRIDGE — The on-site diner at the Southbridge Municipal Airport, which was known most recently as The Red Baron Diner, has found new life.
It reopened Nov. 12 as Josh’s Place.
The diner had been closed since September 2021, when operator James Dhembe passed away.
The new operator, chef Joshua Letendre, runs the diner at 220 Airport Access Rd. with two other employees, serving breakfast and lunch from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week.
For decades, the diner was a destination for pilots and families to stop by for breakfast or lunch, while planes took off and landed right across the chain-link fence that separated the runway from the diner’s outdoor seating.
The 42-year-old Letendre has 25 years of culinary experience, including having worked at The Breakfast Club in Malden and Corrib Pub in Brighton.
At Josh's Place, Letendre said that he wants to bring back the family atmosphere that characterized the diner for many years.
In addition to the classic diner favorites, he said that he will also add "a Boston feel" to the menu with breakfast paninis and breakfast quesadillas served with guacamole and sour cream.
“I remember going as a kid, seeing fireworks,” said Letendre, who was raised in Sturbridge. “I want people who come here to slow down, stay off the phones and spend time with loved ones.”
In the summer, the airport underwent a $7 million renovation funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The diner was the last piece of the puzzle that wasn’t functional at the airport, which sports a 3,500-foot runway used by planes with up to eight passengers, according to airport manager Ron Plouffe.
Norby Aviation, a flight school for two-seat and four-seat aircraft piloting; an aircraft cleaning service called New England Aircraft Detailing; and a mechanic also operate at the airport.
The airport offers refueling services from an above-ground 8,000-gallon tank, and hangar space that it rents out to pilots or airplane owners.
“The reopening of the diner means a lot to the airport,” said Plouffe. “We’re looking forward to having families again.
“It’s also great for fuel sales, for the flight school and for the other businesses.”
Southbridge Municipal Airport was built during the 1920s, when three farming families donated land for an airport to be built, according to Plouffe.
The FAA took the airport over in 1946.
While the diner is owned by the Town of Southbridge, it is leased out to bidding operators.
Letendre said that while the contract for Josh’s Place is set for five years, he hopes to run the diner for at least 10.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Former Red Baron Diner at Southbridge Airport reopens as Josh's Place