Closing time for Greenville Inn

Closing time for Greenville Inn

The Greenville Inn restaurant and property on Smith Avenue is for sale after the Belknap family decided to close for good following its closure in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – For Diane and Jim Belknap, the decision to close the doors to Greenville Inn permanently had long been a consideration over the years, but the coronavirus outbreak hastened the couple’s choice.

Diane, 63, and her husband Jim, 66, have owned the local fine-dining establishment at 36 Smith Ave. in Greenville for the past 23 years, but have decided it’s time to retire after enjoying the past several months at home.

When the restaurant closed on March 15, Diane said she and Jim were still considering reopening for take-out and eventually dine-in service. As the weeks progressed, she realized how wonderful it was spending more time with her family, particularly her 2-year-old grandson Aiden.

Anyone who frequented the Greenville Inn has seen pictures of Aiden, or his mother, the Belknaps’ eldest daughter Allison, Diane said.

“Everyone knows I’m obsessed with my grandson. They all come in and see pictures of Aiden. He’s my whole life right now,” she told The Valley Breeze & Observer.

Aiden made the idea of closing that much easier for the couple. Diane had been juggling the restaurant and spending time with her grandson while his mother worked. It seemed at times like two full-time jobs, she said, though she said spending time with Aiden is not real work.

“We weren’t going to retire this year. We thought in the near future of selling,” she said.

Once closed, Diane said the couple waited and waited for news from Gov. Gina Raimondo on reopening. By the time news broke that restaurants could open at 25 percent capacity, they had decided to close.

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“My husband said, ‘I kind of like not having to go into work.’ We thought, how many more years are we supposed to keep working?” Diane said.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught her anything, Diane said it is to no longer take anything for granted.

“We said, let’s retire now and enjoy the rest of our lives,” she said.

Diane worked at the inn as a waitress before purchasing the restaurant. She and Jim met at Club 44, where he as a cook was popular among the locals and she waited tables to put herself through school at Bryant University.

The couple married and soon discussed purchasing a restaurant of their own. Diane moved on from Club 44 to the Greenville Inn, closer to home with regularly scheduled hours.

Diane, who also worked as a teacher and in real estate, said she learned that the Greenville Inn, including the business and land, was for sale. Thirty days later, the couple purchased the restaurant in November 1997 and decided to keep the name of the 38-year-old business.

“It’s kind of a landmark in town,” she said.

Her daughters, Allison and Jacqueline, were 10 and 6 when the Belknaps bought the restaurant. They began working in the coatroom at around 12 years old and worked most positions in the restaurant until graduating from college. Allison is a lawyer and Jacqueline a CPA. Both are established in their careers.

“That’s why they don’t want the restaurant,” Diane said.

The couple hopes to sell the restaurant to the next generation of family-oriented restaurateurs to follow in their footsteps. She said she hopes to one day be a regular at whichever business ends up at the Greenville Inn, though she is hoping it’s a restaurant.

Since announcing its closure on June 22, Diane said she’s received an outpouring of support from the community. Of the 28 years working at the inn, she said not one day felt like work.

“It’s like inviting everyone in your house. That’s what I’m going to miss, seeing everyone and chatting with them,” she said.

A Valley Breeze photo of the Belknap family 23 years ago taken when the family announced reopening the Greenville Inn under new ownership.
The Belknap family now, from left, Diane, Allison, Jim and Jacqueline. After shutting down the restaurant due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the family decided it’s time to retire after enjoying the past several months at home.