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Zinn’s Diner employees still family 11 years after the restaurant was sold
Special reunion set Saturday
For 53 years, Zinn’s Diner provided tasty meals and excellent service to dedicated local patrons and hungry tourists alike.
“In our peak year, we served 758,000 customers in a diner with fewer than 200 seats,” said Chris Zinn II, former owner of the restaurant. “We were in the top 70 of all independent restaurants in the U.S., and that’s based on gross sales. That’s a big deal because we didn’t serve alcohol and so had no extra revenue from that, and the average check for a meal at that time was around $3 which was very low compared to our competitors.”
The big question, then, is how did such a small diner achieve these amazing feats? Chris had the answer immediately.
“We achieved this through the hard work of our dedicated and reliable employees. It was truly an honor to have, and work with, employees like the ones we had at the diner.” Chris continued, “That’s what put Zinn’s Diner on the map. It had nothing to do with my grandfather, or my father, or me. It was the employees that made it a success. We worked hard, but we had fun at the same time. We loved one another, like a family.”
Chris had to sell the diner 11 years ago, but he still has fond memories of the people he worked with at the restaurant.
“I remember Kevin Rathman, he was 15 years old, and one time he walked from Reamstown to the diner, in the snow, to wash dishes,” he said. “We needed someone to go out and shovel the walkways clear and he went out and shoveled snow all day. John Gerhard worked with us for 42 years and the only time he was out sick was when a pressure cooker exploded and he got injured and we had to make him go the hospital. Marlin “Honey” Garmen was around 70 years old when I hired him. He did the work of three men. He came in every day and did what had to be done with no instruction. Their dedication was amazing. We did what we had to do. No one would ever say ‘This isn’t part of my job description.’”
Chris credits the Zinn’s employees for teaching him everything he knew about the restaurant business.
“People like Richard “Butch” Stevens taught the boss’s kid to eventually be the boss. It was a tough pill to swallow at times, but they did it. They never sugar-coated anything, but they were always patient with me. There was Paul Bickhart, he was just about the fastest cook I ever saw. We had lots of fun. He would take me home at the end of the shift if my dad was working late. It’s not like he got extra pay for doing that, he just did it because he was nice and we were friends. Bob Buohl had so much patience with me. He took me under his wing and showed me so much. Ivan Boyer, the maintenance man for the park, the work he did was phenomenal. I can’t say enough good things about him. He taught me so much. So many people there did.”
The dedication of the employees and their willingness to pass on their knowledge and technical skills to new hires created a real family atmosphere. In many cases, real families — entire families — worked at the diner.
“Gary Christ, our third shift manager, his wife and all of his kids worked for us,” Chris said. “Helen Weinhold was an employee of ours and both of her daughters worked for us. One of them went on to become a fantastic hostess. John Gerhard and his wife met while working at the diner. They had three daughters and two of the three worked at the diner as servers. Harry Gross, our second shift manager, his wife and two sons worked for us, too.”
Chris listed many more examples of whole families who worked at the diner.
“I used to write all the commercials for the diner and I was the one who started saying, ‘From our family to yours.’ This is why,” he said. “The diner was a family, and still is. Some of our employees still work there, even though the name has changed. Julie Ceresini and Charlotte Boas are both still working at the same location, but now it is the Park Place Diner.”
Chris will be hosting a reunion for Zinn’s Diner employees in the Park Place Diner’s banquet hall on Saturday, May 31.
“It starts at 11 a.m. and will end when we are done telling stories,” Chris said. “We are going to have a covered dish lunch, but if you don’t want to bring anything you don’t have to.
“Many of our servers have been having get-togethers like this for years on their own which really shows the camaraderie of our employees. I’d like to do a reunion like this on a more regular basis, too.”
Merriell Moyer is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.