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ROCHESTER — It started as a trickle of phone calls at 7:20 a.m. and turned into a swell of customers. What began as a test run for Mills Diner to gauge support ended in over 100 patrons ordering food during a four-hour window on March 29.
The diner opened from 8 a.m. to noon that day and wasn’t expecting customers in the triple digits.
“We were absolutely blown away by the volume,” Mills Diner owner Kevin Mills said. “It was nothing short of a miracle that our cook didn’t lose his mind, simply because of having to work with me as his partner in the back. We actually had a blast, even when we were in the thick of it in the beginning. It was a lot of fun. Amanda, my wife, and I were blown away by the community’s support.”
Mills Diner had temporarily closed two weeks earlier due to the novel coronavirus outbreak and restaurant restrictions. The popular breakfast spot on Highway 12 in Rochester had tried to stay open for two days after the mandate was put in place, but business was too slow to make a profit.
“It’s a rough living in the restaurant to begin with,” Mills said. “We decided it would probably be better just to put (the employees) on standby.”
Then Mills and his wife decided to start a poll on the restaurant’s Facebook page on March 27 asking, ‘Are you hungry for breakfast this Sunday?” The two options were: ‘Yes, I’d order to go,’ and ‘I’m eating ramen noodles.’ Seventy-five percent of the responses were, ‘Yes, I’d order to go.’ So they decided to open that Sunday for four hours, from 8 a.m. to noon. By 9 a.m. there were people waiting outside and in their cars.
Mills likes to go out of his way to find negative feedback so he can know what to improve on. He couldn’t find any that day. Everyone was pleased with their meals.
“I think a lot of people were happy to get out and enjoy some food,” Mills said.
Mills credited his staff for the service and food Mills Diner put out that Sunday.
“I love being able to brag about our staff,” Mills said. “They have an absolute passion for what they do and they put their all into what they do here.”
The diner offers American-style breakfasts with top-selling dishes such as country fried steak, omelettes and its Classic Run of the Mills breakfast that features eggs, hash browns, toast and either bacon or sausage. One of its biggest selling points are the portion sizes.
“My wife is really passionate about giving people value for their money,” Mills said. “We use a higher grade of bacon, bread, even the hash browns.”
Kevin and Amanda Mill’s mission when starting the restaurant was they wanted to be the community’s connection spot, a place where people could come in and connect with each other.
“That’s really what the vision continues to be,” Mills said.
Mills Diner opened temporarily on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon with a limited breakfast menu containing eggs, hash browns, country fried steak, pancakes, french toast and so on. Sunday the diner had a ‘car hop’ with a deejay on a car trailer playing 1950s music. Customers can call in their orders, drive to the diner and a waiter will bring the food to their car. Customers receive a plastic glove to sign their receipt. The diner does not offer delivery service at this time.
The diner plans to have another temporary opening from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, April 10, Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12. Mills plans to add some lunch items to their temporarily limited menu, which will be posted to their Facebook page either Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Obviously, everything’s up in the air,” Mills said. “We’re taking it day-by-day… we’re incredibly grateful. Both Amanda and I have a lot of gratitude. We’ve put our heart and soul into the business. We’ve tried to make it the best we can make it. The support from the community is what it’s about.”
More Information on Mills Diner
Hours: 8 a.m to 1 p.m., Friday, April 10, Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12.
Location: 10109 Hwy. 12 SW., Rochester
Top selling items Mills Diner
Classic Run of the Mills breakfast: $10.80
Country fried steak: $11.70
Carnivore omelette: $13.50
Western omelette: $12.60