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Glass half full: COVID-19 slowdown speeds up renovations at Home Town Diner in Mt. Morris

MT. MORRIS — Eric Messenger grew up around the corner from the former Garden View Family Restaurant,.

Now he owns it. 

Messenger was planning periodic closures to his Home Town Diner at 312 E. Hitt St., which he bought and renamed in November.

The shutdown sped up those plans.

“We’ve done some painting and remodeling,” Messenger said. “The new sign was finished Thursday. We did some floor work. We’re working on our waitress area and hand-washing station. We got some more advanced equipment. It has become easier with COVID-19. That was a plus.”

In fact, he decided to do more improvements than first planned – changes to make the place more to his liking, not because they were needed – and now it's a better, more modern restaurant, he said.

Messenger recently graduated from culinary school, but this is not his first time wielding a spatula.

“I’ve been cooking for a very long time for different restaurants," he said.

“I was at Spring Valley and Oregon Nursing Home. I cooked at White Pines Ranch. I’ve always been involved in the cooking part."

The dining room is closed, but its curbside delivery is popular.

Home Town Diner’s specialty is its homemade biscuits and gravy. Customers also enjoy the mashed potatoes, which are made fresh, and Messenger takes pride in the burgers, which are formed by hand and also fresh. 

Because his staff is laid off until the closure ends, Messenger’s been taking phone orders himself and then hitting the grill to fill them. 

“It was tough for the first couple of days," he said. "Financially it’s been rough, but the community has been supportive. People have still been ordering, and they’re trying to help us.”

Messenger applied for small business assistance programs, and is working with his bank and utility providers to pay his bills. He's also taken additional measures to bring in revenue, such as providing curbside Easter dinners.

He’s eager to show off his improvements to the community he grew up in, and plans to reopen June 1, if it's possible.

“We’re very excited to have people come back in. A lot of people have been asking questions. I think they’ll be really surprised, and they’ll like it.”

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