WATERTOWN (CBS) - It's been on Mount Auburn Street in Watertown since 1947. It's even on the national register of historic buildings. But now, a diner which customers know better for its Rhode Island Johnny Cakes and Shakshuka, is getting creative to save itself.
"Diners are from another generation," says longtime regular Christine Brenner. The college professor is now part of a unique effort to bail the "Deluxe Town Diner" out of a $100,000 hole. "It tells me that this diner has an emotional place in people's lives," she says.
Like so many restaurants, this eatery lost 90 percent of its customers when the pandemic hit, and has regained barely half amid all the restrictions.
"It's been tough," understates co-owner Don Levy.
Levy said when the first stimulus bill ran out -- and the second never came -- the red ink got very, very deep, and threatens to shut him down.
He's only been able to hire back half of his 30 employees... and can't always pay them on time.
"We're trying to stay in business forever," he said with a hopeful smile.
So last Friday, two staffers finally convinced him to launch a "GoFundMe" campaign. The twist here, is that diners get a gift card that matches their donation, with the hope they'll pay cash for their meals right now, and save the gift card for when the place gets past this crisis.
Diane Alpert has been a customer for 15 years. "It's gonna be a tough road," she said. "But if any community can do it -- it's this one."
Indeed, in less than five days, diner donors have piled on, pushing the fundraising total to nearly $50,000 already.
"It simply says that this diner is the heart of this community," smiled Christine Brenner.
"Low and behold I'm flabbergasted by the response," said owner Levy. "I'm just so happy that people think that much of us."
And that's the kind of stuff that'll stick to your ribs.
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