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Shyrl’s Diner’s Long-Term Fate Unclear as Owners of Oriental Wok Express Buy Building

  • Owner of Shyrl's Diner, Shyrl Rafus sits with her great-grandson Brayden Hammond, 4, while auctioneer James St. Jean auctions off the building her diner is in on July 20, 2017 in West Lebanon, N.H. Kaleigh Wagar her granddaughter is on the phone taking bids for the auction from Stacey Thomson, a customer at the diner. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Center Stephen Ross, with his business partner Chang Lin, bid at an auction in West Lebanon, N.H., on July 20, 2017. The two purchased the building that is the home of Shyrl's Diner. Lin's son Benjamin is with them. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Brayden Hammond, 4, plays with his toy cars after the auction in West Lebanon, N.H. on July 20, 2017. His great grandmother is Shyrl Rafus, owner of Shyrl's Diner where the auction took place. Chocolate milk had been spilled during the auction. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, July 20, 2017

West Lebanon — The building that houses Shyrl’s Diner drew a winning bid of $220,000 from the co-owners of the nearby Oriental Wok Express restaurant during an auction Thursday afternoon.

Stephen Ross and Chang Lin, who also supply sushi to various commissaries on the Dartmouth College campus through another joint venture, Roslin’s Sushi, said they would like to keep Shyrl’s Diner in its longtime location at 31 Main St.

The sale came as a blow to the loyal customers of diner owner Shyrl Rafus, 70, who had hoped to provide a fairy tale ending to her career by purchasing the West Lebanon building from Mascoma Savings Bank themselves.

The bank acquired the building recently from her former landlord, Alex DeFelice Jr., who sold the neighboring 35 Main St. to Consign and Design Center owner Jana Gray in 2016.

DeFelice shut down his neighboring furniture store a few weeks ago.

Among the dozen or more onlookers who had gathered in the parking lot in the 90-degree heat to watch the auction unfold, longtime customers Angela and Jason Carpenter were on hand with plans to bid themselves.

Angela Carpenter said they have been looking for an investment property for a while.

“When we heard of their dilemma, combined with our desire to invest, we figured we’d come over today and see what we could do,” she said. “And we would be supportive of her continuing her business.”

Other customers, including Nelson Fogg, of Wilder, who sat on the curb drinking from a plastic foam cup, also were prepared to meet Mascoma Savings Bank’s minimum bid of $75,000.

Rafus’ granddaughter and waitress, Kaleigh Wagar, stood with a phone in hand, acting as a proxy for diner customer Stacey Thomson, of Orford, who owns a timber, trucking and excavation business and who had expressed an interest in bidding.

In advance of the auction, Rafus’ customers said they were rallying around her because to them, the diner has come to represent more than a breakfast stop — their loyalty to her has something to do with nostalgia, stick-to-your-ribs food priced cheaply, and the septuagenarian’s diehard work ethic, on display every day when she woke up at 2 a.m. to prepare for the first wave of blue collar customers.

Auctioneer James St. Jean opened the proceedings with a brief description of the wood-frame, two-story property, which he and a handful of prospective bidders had toured with Rafus earlier in the afternoon.

“I bought the largest iced tea known to man in here,” he said.

When no one bit on an opening bid price of $200,000, St. Jean shifted gears and opened at $100,000, which drew a flurry of bids, including from Jason Carpenter.

Fogg and Wagar never got a bid in. And Carpenter quickly dropped out of a two-person bidding war between Ross and Brian Molloy, whose Molloy Development owns a couple of other commercial properties on Main Street, including the buildings that house Lake Sunapee Bank and Domino’s Pizza.

Near the end of the auction, Molloy raised his hand to signal a bid of $210,000, but when Ross quickly went up to $220,000, he declined to bid any higher, leading St. Jean to declare the auction over.

Molloy, whose second-highest bid keeps him in play as an alternate, declined to comment.

Rafus said she knew Molloy as the former owner of the Foodstop, and would have been comfortable living with him as a landlord.

But immediately after the auction, Rafus seemed taken aback as, just feet away, Ross signed papers with St. Jean to finalize the purchase.

“I have no clue who he is,” she said.

She said she was surprised that the building brought as much money as it did.

The property, which includes a 600-square-foot apartment located above the diner, has an assessed value of $265,700, according to city property records.

Wagar said the building is in need of so many repairs that she feels it’s worth less than the $220,000 it sold for. Ross and Lin also will be responsible for $978 in overdue water and sewer bills, and $1,500 to cover state transfer taxes.

After Rafus’ customers were unable to purchase the building, the diner’s long-term fate remained unclear Thursday afternoon.

Ross and Lin expressed interest in keeping her as a tenant.

“I talked to her earlier today and she said she would be willing to stay on depending on who bought the building,” Ross said after the auction. “That’s fine with me.”

But Rafus was noncommittal about what might happen after the diner’s current lease expires in March 2018.

“We have someone who would like to have me check out another location” in Lebanon, she said.

In addition to their joint Chinese food ventures, Ross and Lin own a residential property in Lebanon.

Ross and Lin said they have no intention of using the building for their own food enterprises, and would begin their term of ownership by considering repairs to the roof and other maintenance needs soon after a closing sometime around Sept. 1.

After putting down the $5,000 down payment, Ross said he was unsure of whether they would pay the balance in cash, or would seek financing.

Minutes after signing the papers, Ross approached Rafus and made arrangements to stop by and talk with her.

“He said he was coming for breakfast tomorrow morning,” Rafus said. But she also noted that it’s a busy time for the diner.

“Tomorrow’s Friday morning,” she said. “I can’t guarantee anything. We’ll see what we’ll see.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.