The way John Krissinger explains it, the deal was too good to refuse. After decades of working for other owners, turning around underperforming hotel restaurants nationwide, the veteran chef was ready to pull the trigger on a place of his own. He'd been scouring the business-for-sale websites looking for a Cleveland-based restaurant when a big fat cherry appeared on his screen.
"I was sitting at home one night scanning around and for some reason I put in Chagrin Falls instead of Cleveland and this popped up," says Krissinger. "It's Dink's! I woke up my wife and told her Dink's is for sale and I'm buying it."
Well, the restaurant used to be Dink's, but for the past seven years it was Fresh Start Diner, a spin-off of the Twinsburg-based spot of the same name. But since Dink's Colonial Restaurant was a Chagrin Falls institution for than 50 years, that's how this space forever will be remembered.
In his mind, Krissinger wasn't just rescuing a historic diner, he was restoring a sense of culinary order in the community, a community that has changed since he graduated from Chagrin Falls High in 1985.
"Everybody has gone high end," he laments. "Whatever happened to just grandma's food? I want this to be the place where people go when they just want damn good food."
Krissinger opened the North Main Diner this past November.
"I want this to be like Dink's used to be — a place where everybody in town would gather," he explains. "The townie place, and a place you could afford to come. I've got five people in my family, and when I take them out to eat in Chagrin Falls, it's $125. I can't do that!"
The same size family could walk away from a filling meal here for 50 or 60 bucks tops, says Krissinger. And they'd get a square meal that was made from scratch the old-fashioned way. The motto here is good food at a fair price, a practice we can all get behind. With dishes plucked from yesteryear, the menu could just as easily have been penned in 1950. There's stuffed cabbage, meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, country fried steak and pot roast. A rarity these days, Krissinger sells macaroni and cheese with zero lobster or truffle oil.
"The craziest thing that I do is put chopped herbs in my french fries."
He also dodges shortcuts like pancake mix, biscuit mix, and frozen doughs. His breakfast staples begin life in their natural form: flour, baking powder, eggs, buttermilk, butter. The maple breakfast sausage is made in-house from ground pork and spices. Real mashed potatoes from dinner get reworked into crispy mashed potato cakes at breakfast, which are served with eggs, bacon and pepper gravy.
A burger and fries is $5, unless you want to make it a double and the price jumps to $7.50. These are the sort of thin diner-style burgers one would have enjoyed at legendary Cleveland places like Mawby's. In fact, these essentially are Mawby's burgers, right down to the paprika grilled onions.
One of the first major changes the new owner implemented was bringing back nightly dinner service.
"Dinner is a struggle because it hasn't been offered here for a dozen years," he says. "It's going to take time, I understand that, but we needed to open for dinner."
At one time or another Chagrin Falls had six soda fountains. Now it has just one, the shiny number that sits behind the counter at North Main Diner. Krissinger rescued it from a nearby estate and quickly rolled out an old-timey lineup of tasty egg creams, phosphates, malted milks and shakes, which drone away on a vintage milkshake mixer.
"That's the sound of money," he jokes.
For months, Krissinger has been on the hunt for the perfect jukebox, an item that is mandatory for authenticity's sake. He also continues to restore old connections with his neighbors and classmates, many of whom he hasn't seen or spoken to in 30 years. Now that he's running the town diner, he'll have plenty of time.
"If somebody would have told me 30 years ago that I would end up owning a restaurant in Chagrin Falls, I would have laughed at them," he says.
North Main Diner16 North Main St., Chagrin Falls 440-893-9599 nmdiner.com
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