Every movie or television show set in the 1950’s has one: a local diner. Depending on individual specialties, the establishment may be famous for burgers, pies, milkshakes, coffee, or exceptional service. What central Michigan diners offer competes valiantly with any national chain or franchise. Here’s four – but not nearly close to all – of the best locally-owned diners in and around Mt. Pleasant.
The Diner, located at 894 South Mission Road in Mt. Pleasant, is open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. most days. Sundays, the business opens at 7 a.m. and on Fridays, the business closes at 7 p.m. The Diner is currently accepting both take-out and seated orders.
Aptly named, The Diner is under the care of multitasking mother and Owner Kara Fritz, of Shepherd. Having worked at the family business since the age of 16, Fritz attended college but couldn’t stay away from the restaurant her great aunt began 20 years ago.
“My staff is a huge thing,” Fritz says. “I’ve worked with most of my staff since high school. It’s run more like a family than as a business. We’re close knit to the community and our customers.”
Cathy Buckner, 40, of Shepherd, returns to The Diner about once a week for breakfast with family. On Labor Day, Buckner says she her husband woke up and, like clockwork, drove to The Diner for their weekly meal.
“We didn’t even think about it being Labor Day,” Buckner laughs. “They were closed, so we went to [a diner chain] and it was just nothing like a local diner.”
Jon’s Drive-In, located at 1030 South Mission Street in Mt. Pleasant, is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days of the week. Sunday, the restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m and on Friday closes at 10 p.m.
Founded during the height of diners’ cultural relevance, Jon’s Drive-In began when John Spiris – yes, with an “h” – completed his service as a marine in California. Coming from a family in food service, Spiris was fascinated by the concept of the drive-in and decided to bring the idea to Mt. Pleasant. His oldest son, Jon, inherited the business, and says the story goes that he’s the restaurant’s namesake.
Kira Trofatter, 18, of Mt. Pleasant, serves Jeremy Trofatter, 40, of Mt. Pleasant Sept. 13 at Jon’s Drive-In. “In November, I will have been here two years,” Kira says. “My aunt has worked here 12 years and I’ve always come here since I was a kid.” “My dad was always, ‘Everything is fresh; usually as fresh as you can make it,’ on the premise that the quality of food is our number one aspect of doing things,” Spiris says. “You’ve got your [chain drive-throughs] and everything is frozen but I get my hamburger certified angus beef, which is top-of-the-line.”
Server Kira Trofatter, 18, of Mt. Pleasant, has been coming to Jon’s since her childhood.
“I had a lot of dentist work done as a kid and my mom would always bring me here when we were done,” she says.
Ever since she made the switch from customer to server nearly two years ago, Trofatter says some of the most interesting customers she interacts with are the few who return only once a year.
“They travel around Michigan to try out different diners and return to the ones they like.”
Of course, not all fans of Jon’s Drive-In only visit once a week. Jeremy Trofatter, 40, of Mt. Pleasant makes multiple trips a week to Jon’s with his family.
“It has fantastic food and it’s been here forever,” he says.
Pixie Restaurant, at 302 North Mission St. in Mt. Pleasant, is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends.
Well-known in the area for its 1950’s diner aesthetic and neon signs, Pixie’s Restaurant has been serving customers since 1948. Assistant Manager Nathan Black, 19, has been serving customers since he was legally able, three and a half years ago.
Names line the walls of Pixie Restaurant. Assistant Manager Nathan Black says the names come from patrons who have successfully completed the diner’s Bitty or Coney Challenge. “If you eat eight bitties or ten conies in an hour, you can get your name somewhere on our wall, ceiling, or under tables."Black says the history of the restaurant and its family-friendly style are part of what brought him to Pixie.
“I was always coming here as a little kid for the special Coney Days and Coney for a Cause, getting my name on the wall, and having birthday parties here,” he says. “One thing that makes this place unique is it’s somewhere a guest can come and we’ll know their name.”
It’s easy to remember the names of two guests who stopped by Pixie Restaurant for a celebratory meal Aug. 30. R.J. Avram, 19, of Hudsonville, brought P.J. Tonthola 18, of Kalamazoo, to the restaurant for the first time as part of R.J.’s birthday celebration.
“My family comes here all the time because they’re Central [Michigan University] grads,” Avram says. “So, every time we’re driving through Mt. Pleasant, it’s either Pixie or The Bird. I had a gift card because we come here so often.”
Tonthola’s first-timer review of Pixie’s?
“I really enjoyed it,” Tonthola says. “I smashed [my order] in like three minutes.”
Grandma Ether’s Kitchen, at 11234 South Crawford Road in Shepherd, is open every day of the week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Grandma Esther’s Kitchen:
Contrary to the name of the diner, Grandma Esther will not greet you in this establishment.
Her daughter, Mary Ramon, however, will.
Ramon, a Shepherd resident, named the restaurant after her mother, who died before their dream of a mother-daughter bakery could be fulfilled.
Shepherd resident Linnette Klump, 54, spreads sauce on pizza dough at Grandma Esther’s Kitchen. Just minutes later, Klump places the prepared pie in the establishment’s 90-year-old oven. “[The diner] is out here in the community, in the middle of nowhere and it’s easy, convenient, being local. Mary and Joe [Ramon] are great people to work for,” Klump says. Now, over 21 years since Ramon opened Grandma Esther’s Kitchen, the diner has expanded from only baked goods to a full breakfast-through-dinner menu, to the addition of a general store, and another addition of three greenhouses.
“We have eleven different kinds of pizza and six specialties,” Ramon says. “[We also have] grinders… Subs… and we have a lady that comes in and does a bit of baking for us on a weekly basis.”
Central Michigan University students Teresa Homsi, 20, of Cypress, Texas, and Michael Livingston, 20, of Hartland, discovered Grandma Esther’s Kitchen on their first date.
“We passed by this place on the road around lunchtime and we were hungry and we stopped in there thinking it was just a place to eat,” Livingston says. “We see this little old lady and go, ‘Who is Esther? Is it you?’ And she goes ‘No, I’m Mary, but Esther is my mother,’ and it went from there.”
After having a bite to eat, Homsi says Ramon gave her and Livingston a tour around the establishment. When Homsi went inside the greenhouse, Livingston spoke to Ramon.
“I told her it was our first date,” Livingston says, “and she said ‘Well, she’s got a smile on her face. It seems like you’re doing fine.’”
The two have returned to the diner multiple times since their initial visit almost a year ago. Homsi says each time she’s asked if Ramon remembers them, Ramon has happily confirmed she knows their faces.