Locations change, but the hotspot remains the same in Dresden
The Hot Spot Diner has officially opened in its new location at 542 Gardiner Road in Dresden.
Co-owned and operated by Lenny Santos and Tarah Diffin, the restaurant was first opened on Route 1 in Wiscasset in 2005 by Tina Fitzsimmons, who died in January, and Santos. It was known as Ship’s Chow Hall until 2020.
Midcoast Properties purchased the Wiscasset site in 2020 and Santos and Diffin continued to operate the following year under the current name Hot Spot Diner. However, the owner refused to renew the restaurant’s lease this year, prompting the unexpected but successful move to Dresden.
Stepping into the Hot Spot mid-morning on September 16, it’s clear that the personality of the owners is an indelible part of the guest experience. A colorful menagerie of historic military memorabilia, cartoons, and Halloween decorations adorn the orange and yellow walls. Santos and Diffin chat with customers at the bar from the kitchen.
Santos said the decorations, including the variety of patriotic flags hanging outside the establishment, are something long-time guests will recognize.
“It’s our staple food; everyone sees the flags and they know it’s us,” he said.
The restaurant officially opened on September 1 after spending the entire summer renovating the space. Santos said they were wall to wall with customers on their opening day, a welcome sight after missing out on a potentially lucrative season.
“A lot of our people from Wiscasset came. I love it, I think it’s awesome. People from Boothbay, Edgecomb, Bath, everywhere,” Diffin said.
The new Dresden location was formerly Ship’s Chow Hall II, a second location for Ship’s Chow Hall which Santos ran from 2008 to 2017. Santos retained ownership of the building after closing Ship’s Chow Hall II. Now the interior is barely recognizable from its past life.
“New plumbing, new flooring, new appliances, new pump for the septic tank, new grill, everything is new, really,” he said.
Santos said one of their Wiscasset clients helped them with their extensive renovations. After five years without major maintenance, the building needed new pipes, flooring, and countless other updates.
“He helped us left and right, and if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here,” Santos said.
The space also has a classic bar and restaurant with a direct view of the kitchen, which the old space in Wiscasset did not have. Diffin and Santos agreed that after all the renovations, the interior of their new restaurant was even nicer than the old one.
The duo still have work to do with the exterior, including installing an awning and sidewalk repairs, but that hasn’t stifled the restaurant’s flow of dedicated customers.
“People have helped us a lot, people love us,” he said.
Two regulars, Rose Dershaw and Theresa Williams, from Alna and Brunswick respectively, dine together at the Hot Spot every Thursday.
“If it was closer, we would have come every day,” Dershaw said.
The friends said they enjoy everything on the menu, but the two often order the restaurant’s corned beef hash with bacon.
The restaurant offers a robust menu of home-style trappings, like pancakes, omelets, bacon, sandwiches, and eggs all over the place. Beyond the menu, Santos and Diffin also offer a variety of new specialties each week.
The restaurant is open from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Santos, a trained dinner chef who studied culinary arts at Bunker Hill Community College, said he would consider opening the restaurant for dinner up to three days a week in the future.
For more information and updates, find The Hot Spot Diner on Facebook.