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Kim’s Cicero Diner is an old-fashioned family diner. It’s like stepping into the set of the “Happy Days” TV show. It’s checkerboard floor is accented with nostalgic posters and prints of an era gone by. Who remembers vinyl records (?)—for the younger people who may never have experienced the blissful background scratch in the music, you can see some 33s and 45s hanging from the ceiling!
Twelve years ago, Kim Rizzo bought the diner and Gary helped her pull it up from a bankrupted state. Now it’s a refreshing change for those missing a home cooked meal. Gary was laid off after 28 years as a welder for the Carrier Corporation. He was also a professional photographer on the side, but with both he and Kim losing their jobs, they had to make a quick decision.
Kim decided to buy the failing entity and convert it into a welcoming gathering place with great food. Now how do I know the food is good? Well, since I went in to interview Gary, who manages the daily functions of the restaurant, I decided to taste their culinary skills for myself. Since I have my own catering business and know homecooked food from prepared food, I put them to the test. I’m glad to report that they are everything they advertise!!! I had a delightful Belgium waffle with real maple syrup. It was light and delicious, as good as mine even though I hate to admit that! Cooked to perfection by Pat, their head cook, the waffle was just crispy enough to absorb the syrup, and light enough to satisfy my appetite without being over full. With Gary watching over the diner, Kim has taken a full-time positon with Mellon banking. As Gary put it, “She only comes in to get the money,” but he couldn’t say that with a straight face. “We’re very proud of what we’ve established here, and still have 90% of our original staff.” Now that’s an accomplishment because the restaurant industry is notorious for high turnover in staff. I think this is a testament about how welcoming and friendly the place truly is. While I sat there waiting (because Gary is a busy fellow), I scanned the crowd and noticed the huge diversity of clientele. There were all kinds of people – blue collar, suits, elderly, young and everything in between. Gary stated that they have great repeat business, and it’s no wonder why. The servers, Jeannette, Becky and April, are eager to give you the best eating experience possible. There’s also Tony who is Gary’s right hand man. When told how Gary referred to him, Tony simply replied, “You know it” with a pleasant smile. During the interview, the wrapped silverware fell to the floor and Gary quickly got up and tossed it into the wash bin. Next, I was greeted by another smiling face – Doris! At 83, she’s still an active part of the restaurant; she rolls silverware, and is an overall asset to the business. The family like environment is rounded out by their manager, Troy. However, Gary is very comfortable leaving any of his staff in charge if he has to step out – “They are all competent and I trust them. I know it will be business as usual and a lot of places can’t say that. I’m really proud of my staff, and I try to show that to them.”
There a lots of regulars there for breakfast, lunch or both to include Gary’s Mom and Dad – Sonny, Junie and friend, Phyllis. When I asked Gary what he likes best about this business, he replied, “It’s the people of course! You get to meet a lot of wonderful people and many are in the same business. One of my favorite couples are Stan and Kue, owners of Sweet Basil, which is where I go to eat and relax after we close.” I asked if that was a shameless plug for his friends, and he replied “Absolutely” without missing a heartbeat. “We all take care of each other in this business because it’s a tough business. There’s a lot more to it than people think. I’m fortunate to have a great relationship with my staff and customers, but I also have a great relationship with m vendors.” Gary is very proud of the fact that they only use brand named items to ensure the consistency of the food.
This place is truly eclectic! From the cover of the menu sporting a Victorian lady in her finest hat, to the trophies in the front window. Those are Gary’s trap shooting trophies. He’s had a lot of success in this arena too – he was State Runner Up in 2012 and his average shooting score is 97-98. He also holds the Perfect Squad score for 2012, and the 2016 High average score for the whole state. Gary is also Gander Mountain’s top shooter with an average of 98. “Is this what you plan to do in retirement,” I asked. “Nope,” he said quickly, “I’m going back to my 1st passion – photography.” Gary is an accomplished professional photographer and has done photo shoots for the Clintons and at the Congel resorts.
Gary plans to retire in about 4 years but has no plans to slow down. “I’ll visit my sons, one in Dallas and the other in San Diego. One thing is for sure, I won’t be sitting down!”
So if you want to stroll down Mayberry and reminisce about the good old days, you have to visit Kim’s Cicero Diner. Happy eats!