If you grew up in the Foxborough area chances are you've stopped in and had a bite at the Red Wing Diner on Route 1 in Walpole. Odds are your parents and grandparents did the same.
That's because the Red Wing Diner has been serving its customers in the same spot at the Walpole/Foxborough border for over 80 years.
“That’s something I love, especially at this time of the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. People will come in with their sons and daughters and they’ll put them on one of the bar stools and they’ll say ‘This is where papa used to put me when we used to come.' and you hear that a lot,” said owner Liam Murphy.
Opened in 1931 by Harvey Ernstrom, the original diner was a Worcester Lunch Car with nine seats at the counter and a few tables and chairs.
"In the early '40’s Harvey decided he was going to expand and added on the dining room. It was the beginning of WWII. Building suppliers were in serious demand for the war effort. He was having a hard time even acquiring lumber and things like that. The town of Walpole was going to tear down their train station and build a new one. He bought the train station off of the town of Walpole and moved it here. So that’s actually part of our dining room, the old Walpole train station," Murphy said.
The Red Wing has been in Murphy's family for three generations spanning back to 1952. Liam, who has worked at the diner for over 30 years, bought the restaurant from his uncles in 2009.
Because of its name, Liam said, new customers come in from time to time looking for chicken wings. But they stay for the fried clams and pizza.
“We’re lucky enough to have our recipe we’ve been using since 1952. It was [former owners] Joe Campanario and George DeSantis that actually started the whole fried clam thing. We didn’t do fried clams before that,” Murphy said. “We have a simple batter. It’s a light batter, we really let the flavor of the clams and the scallops and the fish come through."
"Our pizzas, being bar pizza, everything is homemade. We make the dough, we make the sauce, and we grind our own cheese. It has its own flavor profile, which has been popular,” he said.
The Red Wing goes through an average of 32 lbs. of clams every day. Murphy has three wholesalers he uses to get his seafood from in Ipswich and Boston.
“Because clams are our thing, our signature dish, I don’t skimp on clams and we use Maine specials, which are the grade AA clams,” he said.
Much like its customers, many of their employees have been there for decades.
“The same waitress that waited on you when you were a kid is now waiting on you with your kids,” said Murphy.
Liam said he remembers in his first restaurant management class he took in college, the professor told him that every two years a restaurant’s staff will turnover.
“That is certainly not the case here at the restaurant. I’ve been here 32 years. Caity is my bar manager, her mother was a waitress here.”
There were the Davison sisters. All five of them worked at the Red Wing Diner, including the eldest Jeannie who worked there for 50 years.
“They had over 200 years of service between the five sisters all here,” he said. "We try to make it like a family. It is family owned; it’s not corporate so we try to be as human as possible. So don’t we have a lot of turnover really."
Liam says the people in the community are the reason the place has been open for more than eight decades.
“The locals in Walpole, especially in South Walpole, have kept us in business for 82 years. I can’t say enough about Walpole,” he said. “The loyalty, not only in Walpole and South Walpole but the loyalty from people in Foxborough, the people over in Sharon, people that have stuck with us through thick and thin.
“I only hope that it can make it to be 100 years here, and at that point I’ll be about ready to retire. It is a great thing, but there can also be a little bit of pressure because you don’t want to be the guy that couldn’t do it. It’s been going for 82 years, you don’t want to be the guy to close the place. But we’re very lucky that we have the local support that we have,” he said.
One of the things he loves most about the Red Wing is hearing stories from customers who have been dining there since they were kids.
“That all goes back to the local people. To Walpole, to Foxborough, to Sharon, to Wrentham, all the local people that come in and the generations of people that come here,” Murphy said.