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Design

Who Owns Tom’s Diner: Tom or Denver?

The owner of Tom’s Diner, a beloved local coffee shop, wants to sell to developers, but fans want to save his 1967 Googie building. Is there a win-win here?
Googie survivor: Tom’s Diner, built in 1967, is a rare example of the SoCal school of design in Denver. Fans insist it's worth saving from the wrecking ball.
Googie survivor: Tom’s Diner, built in 1967, is a rare example of the SoCal school of design in Denver. Fans insist it's worth saving from the wrecking ball.Shannon Schaefer Stage

Tom’s Diner is a classic establishment where Denver residents have been enjoying breakfast at any hour for decades. The building that houses the funky cafe dates back to 1967, and it bears a distinctive retro-futurist look that adds a dash of neon and nostalgia to one of the city’s more eclectic commercial corridors.

But when the diner’s current owner, Tom Messina, decided he’d flipped his last flapjack, he made plans to sell the building and finance his retirement with the proceeds. The diner’s location on East Colfax Avenue, the city’s colorful and fast-changing main drag, guarantees his future. Denver has been experiencing a serious population boom, and apartment buildings to house new residents are popping up across town. A Colorado developer offered Messina $4.8 million for the diner, ample reward after slinging omelettes for 20 years. In its place, an eight-story multi-use development would rise.