New York Times visits a breakfast club in Norwich

I am a big fan of breakfast restaurants, and so I was surprised to read in The New York Times about a place in eastern Connecticut that I had never heard of.

It wasn't a food story or a restaurant review, either, that mentioned Butch's Luncheonette and Breakfast Club in Norwich. (Norwich is described quaintly in the same piece as "an old mill town on the Thames River.")

Times reporter John M. Broder wrote about his unplanned visit to Butch's in a story about a test drive in a new $101,000 416-horsepower Tesla electric car.

Broder was sampling Tesla's new East Coast charging network, which is supposed to allow Tesla owners to charge up on trips and extend the range of their battery systems.

It was Broder's bad fortune to run low on charge power on his trip from suburban Washington to eastern Connecticut, a shortfall apparently exacerbated by the cold weather.

After charging up at a Tesla center off Interstate 95 in Milford, he went on to Stonington for dinner and then spent the night in a Groton motel.

He woke in Groton to discover the remaining estimated range in his Tesla had inexplicably fallen, and he didn't have enough juice to get back to Milford. Numbers on the 17-inch dashboard touch screen indicated the car's half-ton lithium-ion battery pack was nearly dry.

Tesla representatives, when he called for help, diverted him to a public charging facility run by Norwich Public Utilities.

Broder never did finish driving the Tesla to Milford, but I am getting ahead of the story.

He reported, in his Feb. 8 piece, "Stalled Out on Tesla's Electric Highway," that he found Butch's as "the only warm place nearby" while the Tesla "drank its juice" at the Norwich Public Utilities station.

After reading Broder's story, I called Butch's to see if I could come out and write about the breakfast club. After all, how many breakfast clubs are there?

I reached Butch himself. He immediately quashed the idea of my coming to do an interview. He said he didn't want to answer any questions or have a story appear. He did say he has been at it 38 years and plans to close the club soon.

I decided to make a visit, anyway, to see what a breakfast club might look like. I arrived after the regular hours of 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. and managed to get a glimpse while peering in from the sidewalk on North Main Street.

It looks like a charming luncheonette that's been around 38 years, with vinyl-covered counter stools and old wood paneling with black and white photos on the walls.

While I was standing out front, member number 39 walked up and introduced himself. He said the club has 1,700 members who each pay $5 a year to belong.

You can order whatever you want to eat, from eggs to steak, and the food is amazing, number 39 said.

The other remarkable thing about Butch's, he said, is that you can smoke inside. It became a club, he said, after state laws were changed to ban smoking in restaurants.

As long as I was at Butch's I decided to pay a call at the Norwich Public Utilities' charging station.

In a blog that followed his piece on driving the Tesla, Broder wrote more about the Norwich station, which was built with stimulus funds. He quoted a utility official as saying the station has not been very popular.

Well, of course it isn't.

Who would go there to charge their electric car, except someone eating at Butch's?

Broder, whose Tesla eventually had to be towed to Milford, later got into a blogging fight with Elon Musk, the billionaire chairman of the car company, who accused the reporter of bias against electric cars. He said Broder intentionally made his Tesla run out of juice.

As a reader, I believe Broder's account of his trip. And I am offended the carmaker would suggest reporter sabotage.

As a new electric car driver, though, I read Broder's comments about the under-used Norwich charging station as a bit snarky, reporting that only five people have opened accounts to use the chargers. He makes it sound like it is a appropriate harbinger of bad times in the electric car business.

No doubt Tesla's Musk is rightly a little sensitive, too, especially after The New York Times wrote that a $101,000 car didn't make it from Washington to Connecticut and back without a tow, even with the electric-draining cabin heat off and the driver often holding to speeds of some 50 mph or less.

At least the driver got to visit Butch's, though.

This is the opinion of David Collins


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