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The Gem Diner

The Gem Diner is an icon in the Central New York Area. This landmark was taken over by Doug LaLone and son Tony seven years ago. At that time, the structure itself had been compromised from years of disrepair, but the LaLone family was determined to restore it to its glory days. They worked closely with the City to acquire special permission to restore and/or replace the steel siding so they could preserve the original trolley. “It was a labor of love,” stated Doug. “We just couldn’t let this historical landmark get demolished, and we knew it would be a lot of work to get it back in working order.”

The Gem owner Doug LaLone with Dom Cambareri enjoy a pie.

After opening, they added an outdoor porch for additional summer seating. However, once word began to spread about the renewed life of the diner and the quality of the food, the porch had to become a permanent indoor seating area. “We serve over 1,500 people every Saturday and Sunday so we really had no choice but to enclose the area and create another dining room. We also use for private parties,” said Doug. The Gem also is the exclusive caterer for the Aloft Hotel at the inner harbor. The family owned business has grown immensely over the last few years. They accredit to the renewal and creation of the Inner Harbor project, but part of it is their own investment and commitment to the West side of Syracuse. This business model is tried and true as evidenced by the 44 employees with minimal turnover. “We treat everyone here like family,” says Tony. “We don’t have the ‘you can be replaced’ mentality, we prefer to work with our people so they know they matter, and are important to our operation.” You can see how happy the staff are when you walk into the door – you are instantly greeted with a smile and “hello.” The other proof of success with this practice is the fact that the Gem has had a record year so far!

The Gem serves over 1,500 people every Saturday and Sunday so they had little choice but to enclose the area and create another dining room.

There is a six-page menu and 20 daily specials – 10 for breakfast and 10 for lunch/dinner. All the specials are made from scratch daily and the extras are contributed by local vendors such as Geddes Bakery and NY Bakery. There is a nice variety of pies and other desserts to cap off your already delicious meal.

The LaLone’s are committed to their community and are actively involved with the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer fund and local veterans’ groups. “We have a group of Veterans who come in every day for breakfast, and some are WWII. One fellow is 96 years old, and you’d never know that their age if they didn’t tell you” Doug stated. “Sometimes, other customers will pick up their tab as a ‘thank you for your service’ kind of thing. We’re all very grateful to our veterans no matter when they served or are still serving. We also try to do something special for them as recognition for their dedication to our freedom!”

However, the biggest commitment goes to the Challenger Baseball team. “It’s the largest group in the country that works with children of varying disabilities. We want them to enjoy life like any other child. It’s especially important since my son has spina bifida.” The entire family works with or for the Challenger Baseball team in this area. The league was created by parents in the Eastwood area so their children would have the opportunity to play baseball too. They started with two teams and have grown the event to now host 18 teams. Since its inception, the league has grown to 18 teams – 10 junior teams, 6 adult teams and 2 senior teams for a total of 300 players! Since some families have more than one child in the league, they began working with the Town of DeWitt to build the Field of Dreams at Carrier Park in East Syracuse. With donations from business, government and private sources, the Challenger League has built 2 of the 9 fields needed to allow all games to be held in one place. Six million dollars is needed to complete the dream field so the work continues, and the LaLone family is a large part of their future. The league president, Dom Cambareri said, “The Gem Diner is one of the generous businesses that sponsor our teams. But Doug, Tammy and Anthony LaLone are so much more than sponsors. They have been key partners who have come up with creative ideas on how to raise funds and awareness for the project. In the coming months, The Gem has donated space in the diner for a display that will highlight the wonderful players with special needs who will benefit from this amazing outdoor recreation space. We couldn’t do what we do without the generosity of the LaLones and The Gem Diner.”

The LaLone family have committed both time and money to ensure the success of Challenger League Baseball. Even Ben, the son affected by spina bifida works at the diner as a bus boy and works to help the league as well as participates. “He’s a testament to what we’re all about,” said Tony. “He’s my buddy” he said with a smile. “And having family to work with every day is a real joy. I have my Mom and Dad here every day which just makes it a fun place to be.” However, it’s not all fun and games – Tony is GM and runs the kitchen. “I like being my own boss and I like cooking – that combined with being with my family every day is the perfect job.”

The Gem is open Tuesday through Saturday from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM, Sunday from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM and closed Mondays. So, if you’re looking for a diamond in the ruff for your entire family, then you must go to The Gem.

Janet LaFrance