The Rise and Fall of Roadside Magazine

Chapter 2

Picture taken in October, 1990. Roadside Number 1 fresh off the press!

I was trained as a graphic designer. At the time I started Roadside, I worked for a medical products company in Dedham, Massachusetts, laying out their catalogs and flyers on Macintosh computers. By 1990, I had about five years of experience in the business after leaving design school. I had, however, almost no experience in periodical publishing.

But what could be easier, right? I owned a Mac. I had a good sense of design principles. I could write. I owned a good camera. I had most of the basic requirements to produce a publication, except any knowledge of the business of publishing. Roadside, I decided, would be free, distributed in diners, supported by their advertising. What diner wouldn't want to advertise in the world's only publication devoted to their industry and culture?

We designated a certain amount of space in that first issue and calculated the rates to cover our printing cost --  $700 for 8,000 copies. Unfortunately, only a few other diner owners shared Skip's enthusiasm. Surprising to us at the time, not every owner jumped at the chance to buy space in the magazine. We began to see a more realistic view of the challenges of ad sales. Ad sales for an unproven, unknown publication would not come easy. Skip Scipione made our day that day, but he gave us a false sense of confidence in Roadside's prospects. By the time we went to press, the first issue had sold only $400 in advertising.

Once printed, we now had to distribute, so Marjorie and I set off to visit those diners we knew and thought would receive Roadside with at least a semblance of interest. Of course, the few diners that advertised received a stack of copies, but so did about ten other diners as well, all in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut, O'Rourke's Diner in Middletown. Somehow, owner Brian O'Rourke got ahold of a copy and called, inviting me down for a visit. I ended up having a delightful day with Brian, and wrote about the experience in issue 2.

Yankee Magazine helped push Roadside to the next level in their article "Devoted to Diners" published in April, 1991.

In December of 1990, we received a phone call that would change everything. The managing editor of Yankee Magazine found a copy of issue 1 and wanted to include us in an upcoming article about diner enthusiasts entitled "Devoted to Diners." Marjorie and I met with photographer Steven Muskie at the Peterborough Diner in Peterborough, New Hampshire with fresh copies of Issue 1. Since Yankee typically worked three months in advance of publication, we had to wait until the end of March before the issue came out. In the meantime, we prepped issue 3, our first 8-pager, and began to take the first calls and read the first letters from new fans who had discovered Roadside for the first time. We still did not offer subscriptions, figuring the extra work of maintaining lists and mailing copies would not generate enough income to compensate for the added work involved.

During this period, some key people fell into the Roadside fold. Richard Gutman already had expressed his great enthusiasm for our efforts, and opened up his extensive archives for our study. Jerry Berta, who had just purchased Rosie's Diner, called to congratulate us on the publication. Gary Zemola, the future Super Duper Weenieman discovered a copy and called to chew my ear off about the subject. After a three hour phone conversation, we agreed to meet at O'Rourke's Diner to compare photographs and trade road-trip stories.

Also during this period, Marjorie and I hit the road, traveling to further reaches of New England, spreading the magazine across an increasing number of countertops. Issue two printed 10,000 copies, so we trucked them as far north as Burlington, Vermont and as far south as Darien, Connecticut. This time, ad sales actually covered the printing cost, but instead of pocketing any extra revenue, I instead opted to expand the page count to 8 pages.

Issue 3, "Diners to Go" came off the press at about the same time as the Yankee article. "Devoted to Diners" featured Marjorie and me, Richard Gutman, Larry Cultrera, John Baeder, and diner restorer John Keith. Marjorie and I appeared on a full page of the article holding a copy of the second issue with our address at the end of the article.

Then the letters began to pour in, twenty-or-more per day, and they kept coming. The calls came in as well, with most people asking for the subscription price as well as wanting to relate their own personal diner experiences. I began to take many of these calls at work, to the displeasure of my employers, the time a career decision loomed. Figuring, at 30 years old, with no kids, no mortgage, and no other real obligations, and with a whopping $3,000 in the bank, maybe it was time to quit my day job. Roadside had reached the next level.

Next time: It just keeps growing, and growing.