Diner Culture: Meet the folks who own the city's iconic retro eateries

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Try to sit at the counter at Tommy's Diner and not talk to the person next to you. It's impossible.

The moment you reach for that OSU-themed Coke bottle salt shaker, he's going to say hi. Within seconds, you'll know everything about him. What he's doing after breakfast, what his wife loves about him, what she hates about him. And then he'll ask you questions, with the timing of a dental hygienist: right when the breakfast sandwich is in your mouth. Better be ready to pony up your story. The regulars at Tommy's don't take "my mouth is full of eggs and bacon" for an answer.

We don't go to diners to become invisible. Instead, we go to feel a part of something. And, of course, for breakfast. (And lunch. And dinner.) Diners are the community centers in today's culture, where the television news media (and politicians) go to get a diverse set of opinions on candidates, sports and road construction. They're a safe haven when authenticity (meatloaf and mashed potatoes) is more appealing than trendy (sea salt-covered pork belly yuzu doughnut).

Columbus has no lack of diners. Nearly every neighborhood has at least one place to soak up yesterday's overindulgence or take the family for an affordable meal out. We've selected three of the most iconic diners in the city, ones with incredible personality and great food.

And we looked for the people behind these places. What type of person wants to get up at 5 a.m. to turn on the hood and heat up the grills? Who are these people that painstakingly salt and shovel the sidewalks on winter days, memorize the names of their patrons and manage to maintain loyal staff members for 10 or more years? Let's meet them.