For many of us, the former restaurant at 449 Main St. has seemingly been there forever. Known originally as Caboose Lunch, the diner existed for 70 years, known under a variety of other names, including Tommy’s Lunch, Rudy’s Lunch, Rudy’s All Star Diner, and Rudy’s Diner. Let’s take a look at this small, local eatery.

Rudy Ferrante, a standout athlete in fast-pitch softball in the 1950s. Courtesy photo

The founders of the little restaurant were Clarence Smith and his wife, Bertha. Clarence was a yard conductor for the Portland Terminal Railroad and Bertha had been a nurse. They married in 1937 and first lived in Portland with Bertha’s daughters from a prior marriage, Carolyn and Ethelyn. They then had three children of their own – Annie, Barbara, and Walter. In 1944, they purchased two adjacent lots at 449 Main St., on the corner of Mardale Avenue, and moved their family to the home there.

In the late 1940s, Clarence secured an old caboose and moved it onto their property, in front of the house, so that they could open a restaurant. He was working at Rigby Yard as a yard conductor – his job involved coordinating the switching crews and activities in the yard.

Once they got the old caboose set up as a diner, they opened it circa 1950, calling it Caboose Lunch. The diner was a true family business with the kids growing up in it. Both Bertha and her daughter Carolyn Daniel were listed as the restaurant managers. In the 1950s, classified advertisements show that they hired women to work the grill. After Clarence and Bertha divorced, the property was deeded to Bertha in 1962 and she continued to operate it with her daughter Carolyn into the early 1970s. Clarence and Bertha’s son, Walter Smith, born in 1944, worked as a short order cook in the restaurant in his younger years.

Caboose Lunch was located just up from Rigby Yard, so it was a perfect spot for railroad yard employees and train crews to stop and grab a bite to eat. The diner was also popular with residents of the surrounding Thornton Heights neighborhood and was an easy stop for anyone traveling along busy Main Street, too. According to Robbie Ferrante, in the 1950s and ‘60s, the diner ran 24 hours a day, back when Rigby railroad yard was bustling with activity.

The Portland Motor Sales softball team – Rudy Ferrante is standing in the middle of the back row with his sons, Mike and Tommy, seated in front. From the Portland Sunday Telegram, Sept. 27, 1959. Courtesy photo

In 1973, Bertha Smith retired and sold the property to Rudy and Elinor Ferrante in December.


Rudoph “Rudy” Ferrante was born in Portland in 1922, the son of Italian immigrants, Camillo “Thomas” and Santa Ferrante. He grew up at 21 Newbury St., in the Little Italy section of Munjoy Hill. His father died in 1931 when Rudy was only 9 years old. He attended Portland High School and began working at a young age. In 1941, he took a job with Todd-Bath Iron Shipbuilding as a burner in their shipyard in South Portland. Like so many of the men who were among the early employees at the yard, he left and enlisted in the military when the United States entered the war; he served in the Navy for three-and-a-half years in the Pacific.

In 1950, Rudy Ferrante married Elinor Nealley and they had three sons: Thomas, Robert, and Michael. Rudy was an entrepreneur and took one of his passions – cooking for others – and turned it into a lifelong career. In the early 1950s, he owned and operated Bay View Cleaners in Portland, but then ventured into foodservice when he became co-owner of Forest Gardens restaurant and Espans Quick Lunch in Portland. By the mid-1960s, he had opened his own Rudy’s Lunch restaurant on Middle Street, and he later also owned and operated Rudy’s Harbor Lunch on Commercial Street.

Caboose Lunch, the diner at 449 Main St., with a sign advertising it for sale. Rudy and Elinor Ferrante bought the property in December 1973. South Portland Historical Society photo

Not only was Rudy Ferrante a great cook and real people person, but he was quite the athlete, as well. In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, he developed quite a name for himself locally, as he played competitively on fast-pitch softball teams that were sponsored by local businesses and competed in front of audiences around greater Portland.

Playing for Pallotta Oil, Bernie’s Fashions, and Portland Motor Sales, he would often be mentioned in news articles when his home run or some other great play would clinch a game for his team. He finally retired from the sport in 1959. Throughout his life, he was also an avid golfer and was as good at that game as he had been at softball.

When Rudy bought Caboose Lunch in December, 1973, he initially changed the name of the restaurant to Tommy’s Lunch and had his son take over the operation. Tommy had already been working with his dad in his restaurant in Portland. In January, 1975, however, it was announced that Rudy had sold Rudy’s Harbor Lunch on Commercial Street to Tony DiMillo and he joined Tommy in running the restaurant on Main Street in South Portland. Tommy would soon leave, however, to pursue a different path; he partnered with former math teacher Eddie Manganello to found Olympia Sports Center in the Maine Mall, as well as the All Star Deli in the Maine Mall.

Rudy remained running the restaurant on Main Street, changing its name to Rudy’s Lunch. His son Robbie would also join him in the business. Rudy spent nearly 20 years working in the South Portland diner, experiencing success due to his good food and great personality.


He instilled both his passion for cooking and sports into his three sons. All three of them were involved at Rudy’s Diner over the years. When the announcement was made about Tommy taking over the diner in South Portland in 1973, Tommy had just been named most valuable player in a fast-pitch softball tournament. Rudy’s son Mike would take over and run the All Star Deli in the Maine Mall for many years. After Rudy retired in 1992, Mike bought the Main Street diner in 1993, changing the name to Rudy’s All Star Diner.

Rudy’s Diner during the COVID pandemic in 2020. A sign on the door indicated that in-person dining wasn’t being allowed and customers had to order for take-out only. Courtesy photo/Jackie Dunham

Rudy’s son Robbie, who had been working at Rudy’s Lunch with his dad for years, stayed with the restaurant when his brother Mike bought it. Around 1996, Robbie’s friend from childhood, Steve Cook, took over the business. According to Cook, he bought the business from Mike Ferrante under a five-year lease with an option to buy the property at the end of the five years. Robbie remained working at the restaurant with Steve and, in 2001, Mike sold the property to Steve Cook.

While Robbie Ferrante was working at the restaurant all those years, he was also well known as the coach of McAuley High School’s softball team, then became head softball coach at Portland High School, and later he returned to McAuley as head coach, once again.

Rudy Ferrante died in 2014. Rudy’s Diner continued to be operated by Steve Cook and Robbie Ferrante up until the pandemic in 2020. Unable to allow indoor seating, they tried making the business work as a take-out business, but that model was not successful and they closed the doors. The property was purchased by a new owner in 2020 and the building appears to be under renovation today.

South Portland Historical Society offers a free Online Museum with nearly 17,000 images available for viewing with a keyword search. You can find it at and, if you appreciate what we do, feel free to make a donation by using the donation button on the home page. If you have photographs or other information to share about South Portland’s past, we hope you will reach out to us. South Portland Historical Society can be reached at 207-767-7299, by email at, or by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at

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