Behind the decision to close a downtown diner two years after it opened up on Main St.
When Marty Colegrove, a Romulus native, set out to open a diner in Waterloo it was the realization of a lifelong dream.
The veteran had served his Country, the community, and through the restaurant – found a new way to give back. Coaching was his first passion, but taking that, and combining it with his goal to feed customers great food was his second.
The Main Street diner closed unceremoniously. There was no warning, nor was there any indication that things were going bad at the diner. At least from the customers’ perspective.
In early-December Coach’s shut down. A month later when he sat down to talk about it – closure was fresh on his mind.
He didn’t take to the diner’s Facebook Page, where they had an intense following, and 4.9 star rating out of 5. Even after the diner closed, supporters and regulars continued commenting praise on the page’s posts. “We didn’t publish anything on the Facebook Page because we didn’t want pity,” he said. “At the end of the day it was numbers.”
There weren’t enough customers to support the expense of operating, and too many expenses associated with the space they leased in downtown Waterloo. “We’d start to build some momentum with a couple good days, then something would break down in the kitchen, or we would have a really slow stretch,” he recalled.
To try and attract customers, the diner ran constant discounts and promotions. First responders, veterans, and others who served the community were greeted with a 10% discount. It was part of Colegrove’s effort to offer something – as small as it might have been – to those who have given back. “It always felt like the right thing to do for the community,” he said.
Closing was an agonizing decision, and one that he kept at an arm’s length for months. “If it were just me, I probably would have gone down with it,” he recalled. The breaking point came in November, when the ice machine broke, costing hundreds to fix, which was followed by another crucial appliance failure.
The diner’s refrigerator broke down. They lost an entire order of food. It all had to be reordered. “We thought to ourselves, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this just happened’,” Colegrove recalled. As part of their lease agreement in the Main Street space, Colegrove was responsible for maintenance of appliances inside the kitchen – even though he didn’t own them.
While regulars showered praise on the diner’s unique atmosphere, which combined elements of a sports bar and casual, family-friendly diner in an alcohol-free space, it wasn’t enough to gain long-term momentum.
Colegrove wonders now if the concept would have worked elsewhere. While there isn’t anything in the immediate future, he’s open to seeing the project move forward again down the road – if financial conditions allow. “It absolutely should have worked,” he added. “The food was good, and we offered a family-friendly environment that was accommodating to everyone.”
He laughed while noting that the story of his diner on Main Street is one that wouldn’t make sense if he didn’t experience it himself. “If you told me this happened, and I didn’t live through it for the last two years, then I’d tell you, you’re full of it,” he joked. “But we didn’t have a money tree. Wish we had a couple of those seeds, but we just didn’t.”
Among the parts of Coach’s story that even Colegrove finds hard to believe lies in the demographics of Seneca County. “More than 5,000 live in Waterloo, over 30,000 in the County,” he explained, laying out what appeared crystal clear to him. “If we just had an extra 50 customers a week it could have been all the difference in the world.”
It represented less than a quarter-of-a-percent of the population in Seneca that could have been the difference between staying open, and shutting down. He pulled out a calendar, which was a living receipt – outlining each day at the diner. “Maybe if we were in a different place things would have worked out differently. Maybe if we owned our own place instead of rent or lease things would have gone differently. We think about that a lot now,” Colegrove added. “Right now we’re just appreciating everyone who supported us over the two years we were open.”
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