2021 Navigator: Johnny B. Goods Diner owners look far beyond bottom line for success
It was Oct. 1, 1993, when Mike and Kathy Diemer started ripping out the inside of an old building near the corner of Eighth Street and Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Just days later, Mike’s brother David would go missing in action in Somalia as part of the Battle of Mogadishu, also known as the Black Hawk Down incident. They worried while he was missing for 30 hours.
“It put everything in perspective for us,” Mike said. “After that, things were a little easier. You’re out of onion rings, no big deal. We’ll survive.”
The Diemers have run Johnny B. Goods Diner with that mentality since the first days of the restaurant, trying to look past the bottom line to see where they can help the community. This showed during the pandemic, with the diner doing what it could to keep people fed, whether or not they could pay.
What: 2021 Navigator Awards Celebration
When: 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8
Where: Snow Bowl, 2090 Snow Bowl Plaza
Cost: $65 per person
For event and ticket information, visit SteamboatChamber.com/membership/member-events/navigator-awards
They worked hard to keep their own staff working during the pandemic, insisting they come into the diner whenever they needed a meal. They both were surprised at the number of people that simply needed a meal in a town like Steamboat.
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“You would be shocked and somewhat dismayed that in an area like Steamboat how many people came in for free bread and soup,” Mike said. “There was one family that was in for a stretch.”
The diner is one of many restaurants in Steamboat that stepped up to help feed people during the pandemic, and they have been heralded for the lengths they went to help the less fortunate in the community.
In part for this work, the Diemers are being honored with the 2021 Navigator Award for Business Leaders of the Year. But the Diemers say it was the community, both in the restaurant and in Steamboat, that helped inspire them.
The restaurant has always sought to be affordable and accessible to anyone in town, whether they have lived in Steamboat their whole life or if they were first time visitors. Kathy says over the years, they have gotten to know people — families from Philadelphia, hunters from Minnesota — that come by once each year.
“That kind of stuff is fun; to watch their kids grow up and they don’t even live here,” Kathy said.
Steamboat Springs City Council member Kathi Meyer is a regular at Johnny B. Goods, and she says it is because of the community that fills the old diner.
“If ‘Cheers’ would have been a story about a breakfast place instead of a bar, (Johnny B. Goods) would be my ‘Cheers,’” Meyer said. “I usually sit at the counter, and I talk to people. It is my place to tap into the community.”
That community changed a lot during the pandemic. Johnny B. Goods was actually only closed for a day because they were asked to stay open by county public health officials to cater to tourists in town without many other options.
They came across people on quarantine drives across the state that would pick up food at the window. For others, they would deliver food to people’s doorsteps without any contact.
“We would do whatever people needed,” Kathy said. “Groceries, too, we did a lot of that with folks that needed groceries delivered. We just did groceries from here — we had everything — and then delivered it in a box.”
Mike said his kitchen staff would really get into coming up with different soup ideas, sometimes making chili or other dishes. Sometimes, it was a grilled cheese sandwich instead of just bread.
One guy would come in every few days, checking back to see if Mike had a job for him. Eventually, he ran out of money and was getting kicked out of his hotel room. Mike paid for him to stay a few more weeks.
“I’m a New York Italian. It is not in my DNA to give away anything without a little reciprocity,” Mike said. “But when she got the program going, and I saw just how rewarding it was for us, for my staff and for our other customers who got into it, it was really a good day.”
Kathy said for many, it was a lifeline, but for others, they ordered food to try to support the restaurant as it went through a difficult time. But Mike said they are used to not making money, and there was an outpouring of support from the community.
“Mike and Kathy are the salt of the earth,” said Nick Sharp, president of the Steamboat chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association. He said the couple are some of the kindest restaurant owners around.
“Everyone in the industry loves them,” Sharp added.
Sharp is also a frequenter of the iconic downtown establishment, particularly having a fondness for their breakfast plates and Bloody Marys. Sharp complimented the Diemers on how they managed to put the community ahead of themselves through a pandemic that was especially tough on restaurants.
Neither of them think they deserve all the credit for how they helped people during the pandemic, rather they were just a tool for the community at large to leverage.
A former waitress in Alaska bought four Johnny B. Goods sweatshirts. People around town came in to donate their stimulus check. Ranchers would call up out of the blue with hundreds of pounds of ground beef. A plumber came by when the toilet exploded and cleaned it up for no charge.
“We were a conduit for a lot of people who could give us money. … People were giving us things because we gave them the opportunity to pass it on to others.”
Kathy said she believed that what they were doing helped inspire people to extend their own hand to help others as well. In turn, the community they worked to foster in the diner for more than 25 years supported them, as well.
“All they’ve done, the recognition from the governor’s office, that’s indicative of how we feel about Johnny B. Goods,” Meyer said. “It’s comfort food with a comfort attitude.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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