Being from Southwestern Indiana (born in the early ‘60s), I learned a lot about family values, work ethic and a general pride. Over the years, I graduated Boonville High School, went on to some college, worked my way through the restaurant business to general manager positions and even ownership. Much was learned and I am quick to recognize the difference between mediocre foods, poorly run establishments, quality foods and management. I can usually decide within minutes and am about 99.9 percent on target with my judgements.
Having moved away years ago and watching the city of Boonville seem to implode (loss of mines, Alcoa jobs, drugs, etc.), I became disenchanted and happy that I had moved onward. I came from a sizable family who all are pretty tightly knit. Some have moved, but most have stayed, so nature calls me home, too often as of late, for a funeral. Such was the cause this past Wednesday and Thursday, the last of 12 brothers and sisters had passed.
I reached out to my network of family and friends and parsed a simple question, “Ok... Boonville again... Best breakfast... Sit down..”? I was given many answers from my family and friends, amazingly all the same: American Diner. I was asked to attend the Commander’s Grill for lunch and try some buffalo meatballs. I did get one reply for Cracker Barrel, but I prefer mom and pops when I can.
Okay, here I am with decision made. Now a bit of backstory about the diner from my days living in Boonville and before. I don’t remember eating there as a child (it was the Townhouse then), but I do have a wonderful picture of its interior from the late ‘50s.
I have the photo due to its contents. The gentleman on the far left was Norm Hall, a very easy-going owner of the WBNL Radio Station, and to the far right is my mother, Joyce Gore at the time. You will notice (besides her and the others’ beauty) the Townhouse was simple, comfortable and obviously popular.
Now, this restaurant has changed over the years with different owners, names, and food — some good, some, well, not so much, as is the nature of the beast. Trust me, I am not getting away from the story, but I am giving a little background for a bigger picture. This brings us back to the American Diner. I arrived to see it had been somewhat brightened and remodeled. The lot was not stained, but clean. Then I saw the mass of cigarette butts near the curb.
My 1 percent opinion was forming. Was this restaurant, like the struggling town of years past, overlooking the obvious? I reminded myself where I was, a very hard working union-raised town who works hard and plays hard. So, I overlooked it as everything else outside was pristine. Stepping in, about five tables were being serviced and I was given a choice of where to sit. I ended up in the spot my mom had been 58 years earlier – karma. The booths are high enough to block your neighbors faces and conversation — firm and comfy. The tables and floors were spotless. The waitress was smiling a natural smile and more than helpful the whole visit. The skillets were recommended by friends, family and the waitress. I opted for a three-egg country omelet and side of gravy with coffee to drink.
As any good diner customer knows, coffee pulls about 50 percent of the testing score. They passed and got bonus points as my cup never made it less than half full without fail. My food was fast, done very well and extremely tasty. Was it Michelin Star Class? No. Was it a darned good diner? Yes.
To my friends and family, good call. By this time, the diner was filling up and the back room was opened. All this time, it was businessmen, moms and dads, suits, every walk of life.
A classmate of mine from high school was having a small meeting there, glanced my way a few times and did not recognize me, which was fine. It made me laugh to myself. I drowned myself in coffee before the funeral, paid and tipped very well. When I walked out of the door, the butts were there, but I didn’t really notice them. The diner today is simple, comfortable, and obviously popular, which is a homage to the Townhouse.
Here is my epiphany from that simple visit. A city is ever evolving, changing, morphing and growing. They go through good mayors and bad, good citizens and not-so-good, they have memories on many levels and need to be given an open-minded chance.
Boonville is a community I was proud to be in years ago. I moved away and, like all of us, we see and hear the bad that is emphasized in the media and draw our opinions from that. I just had to look past the butts. My eyes were refreshed to see progress in the town and to see how one little diner has survived for this many years, morphing into a shining bit of goodness in the American Diner that just might grow throughout the city itself.
P.S. Sherrie, I hope your ribbon cutting brings a bit more light to the city.