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New London — Customers returned this week as Monica's State Street Diner reopened after suffering extensive damage in an Aug. 21 fire. But for owner Monica Rossi, it was almost as if she had never left.
"I'm a person of routine," said Rossi, who gets in at 5 a.m. "I turned on the light switches, the machines. It's like I never left."
The diner, a mainstay for many city residents and politicians alike, officially opened its doors to the public on Monday.
Rossi said she's still getting into the swing of things, She forgot where she used to put her ladles and she doesn't remember exactly how much deli meat she used to order.
On Monday, she said she was humbled by the returning customers who stopped by to wish her well.
"This place is Cheers with no beers," Rossi said with a smile.
Joe Peabody, who works at nearby Sarge's Comics and More, said the fire destroyed his morning routine.
"You don't realize you miss something until it's gone," he said. "This is where I went before work. The pancakes are delicious. It just makes you feel good. I'm glad they are back."
Ozzie Ozkan, who owns Wings 'n' Pies across the street, and Carolynn Sartelle went to Monica's for a late breakfast Tuesday.
Ozkan said he was happy the business reopened and that business owners need to support each other.
"It's so good to see it open," he said. "State Street needs a breakfast joint. It's nice not seeing an empty storefront."
The historic Bacon Building was condemned after the accidental fire that displaced 20 residents and destroyed Monica's and Zambala Grocery, which remains closed. The apartments on the upper floors are still being renovated.
At Monica's, the decor has pretty much stayed the same, as have the affordable prices. After all, there are few places in town where you can buy two chocolate chip pancakes with links for just $5.95.
What has changed, however, is Rossi's appreciation for the community and for her staff. She credits longtime customers Larry Lewis and Danny Esposito and her employees with getting the diner reopened.
"All of my staff returned. We all love each other or maybe I just can't get rid of them," Rossi said with a laugh.
Jessica Cantone, a waitress at the diner for four years, said the fire left her without a job. But she never doubted that she would return and work for Rossi.
"We're like family here," Cantone said. "The atmosphere is great. I'm excited to get to see everyone again."