The story behind the country’s longest operating food truck, Rhode Island’s own Haven Brothers Diner, is coming to the big screen in Providence filmmaker Jeff Toste’s directorial debut, “Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner.”
The Providence premiere of the documentary film will be on Saturday, June 7 at 7 p.m. in the historic Columbus Theatre at 270 Broadway, less than a mile from where Haven Bros. sets up shop each day.
While the film includes the history of Haven Bros., it focuses on the 1980s, when the diner was moved from its permanent parking spot at Providence City Hall, something Toste says was “blasphemy” to Haven Bros. fans.
“On the surface, it’s the story of the diner, the people who run it and the people who love it. Beyond that, it’s the story of the American Dream,” said Toste.
Haven Bros. has been in operation for almost 120 years; it started as a horse-drawn cart, but was converted to a trailer truck in the 1950s.
“All original diners were on wheels as horse-drawn carriages, then mobile and then became stationary. Now, here we are 100-plus years later and the food truck is back,” said Toste.
From his research, Toste learned of three families owning Haven Bros. over the years. It started with Anne P. Haven, who Toste believes is one of the first women, if not the first, to run a diner.
The Haven bloodline, which includes the Gannon family, maintained ownership of Haven Bros. for nearly 60 years, until it was sold to the Mollicone family in the 1950s. Then, in 1986, Sal Giusti purchased the business with his business partner, Jack Ferry. Ferry has since left the business, and Sal runs the place with his son, Ivan. Toste decided to focus his film on the Giusti family and the struggles they have experienced.
“This was Sal’s first business when he purchased it,” said Toste. “That is a struggle Sal went through and other business owners can relate to.”
Toste feels this film will relate not only to Rhode Islanders or food truck owners, but to business owners, fans of food, history buffs and more.
“I think the story has different elements that different people can relate to,” he said. “If you like stories about characters, unique people, unique places, this is the film for you.”
According to Toste, this film takes the audience into the world of Haven Bros., proving a sense of its importance to people who go there. He hopes it connects audience members to the places in their towns and their states.
“It’s really a love letter to Rhode Island. Rhode Islanders have big hearts, but they’re very cynical people. They don’t always see the positives about Providence and Rhode Island,” said Toste.
A lifelong Rhode Islander, some of Toste’s earliest childhood memories involve going to Haven Bros. As a musician in Providence, Haven Bros. is a staple for him.
“Back in the day, I used to go to a lot of shows, a lot of music venues, and that was always the place I would take friends,” said Toste.
The history Haven Bros. symbolizes also attracted Toste to this story.
“I’m a big fan of roadside Americana. That’s sort of a vanishing part of the culture, yet Haven Bros. is a survivor,” he said.
Toste learned a great deal while filming, including the fact that Rhode Island is the birthplace of the American diner, but one of the most interesting aspects of filming was interviewing the cast of colorful characters connected to Haven Bros.
Some notable interviewees include Buddy Cianci, former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino and former Congressman Eddie Beard, who Toste called amazing, clever and full of stories. Also, Toste would often visit the diner for impromptu interviews.
“It was really this word of mouth kind of process. I would learn about one person while interviewing another,” said Toste. “You’ll see that in the film. I try not to hold too long onto one speaker.”
Toste is unable to keep everyone in the final film but hopes to include them in special features of a DVD. Toste is still making edits to the final version to ensure the story is told properly from the ones who know it best.
“That’s the way to tell the story. Let the people who love this place and are most connected to it tell its story,” said Toste.
Toste called the past three years a learning experience in “do-it-yourself” filmmaking.
“Today’s technology allows freedom unique in the history of filmmaking,” he said.
Toste experienced a lot of trial and error during the process.
“I wanted to make something that contributes to the art form,” he said. “I tried to do things I had never seen. I tried to do things I had never seen.”
He used time-lapse filming and unique camera angles such as mounting the camera on the side of the truck or on the ceiling above the grill.
In addition to tracking down key players for interviews, Toste’s other struggle was funding the project. He received a small grant, but that was spent before he even received the check. Toste decided the amount of time he needed to dedicate to finding and applying for grants was better spent working extra to fund the film on his own.
Toste is not looking for fame and fortune from this project, but the story of Haven Brothers is not only one he wanted to share, but one he believes people want to see. He hopes the film keeps Haven Brothers up and running for years to come.
“I hope the film inspires Haven Bros. to stay true to its legacy,” he added.
Tickets to the June 7 premiere are $11, and can be purchased through the film’s website, www.havenbrothersmovie.com.