Arleen G. Harkins
Owner/Chef | Historic Village Diner
Thirty-five years ago, following three days of discussion, Arleen Harkins disengaged from a corporate career at Philip Morris to become owner and chef of Historic Village Diner with her husband, Sam. “My mother saw it was for sale and said, ‘Why don’t you kids do that?’ I’m self-taught, wasn’t trained at The Culinary — but ask me and I can do it. A lot of chefs just put their names on a copper pot, but I keep the goodness of this career alive,” she says. Last Valentine’s Day, she competed on Chopped: “Burning my bacon disqualified me, but it was lots of fun,” she laughs.
Harkins put Historic Village on the map – literally – as the first New York state diner listed on the historic registry. It’s an original Silk City prefabricated dining car, manufactured in 1927, and the menu and prices are retro, too. Harkins inspires old-school employee loyalty — some have worked alongside her for 20 years — and remains active, despite degenerative disc disease and 25 surgeries. She says, “If you’re passionate about something, you’ll succeed; if you don’t like what you’re doing, get out. Too many people are trapped, and I feel bad for them.”
Not Harkins: She serves up a smile with those fries, every day.
What was your first job?
“I graduated with a teaching degree — elementary education with a minor in special education — so I taught for a while.”