There has been an absence on the downtown Lebanon diner scene for almost a year.
On Dec. 6, 2017, there was a small fire at Kevin’s Café, located at 40 West Sherman Street. Getting the historic diner up and running again has taken much longer than owners Kevin and Kathryn Boyer expected.
But this week, the café is back in business, serving breakfast and lunch to hungry customers.
Kevin Boyer said much of the delay was due to a disagreement with his insurer over paying for the repairs caused by a fire which began in the stove top.
“If I had known how long it was going to take I would have done it right away and pair for it myself,” Boyer said.
He has operated the café since the summer of 2008. Before that, he operated a prior version of Kevin’s Café in Sweet Home in the early 2000s.
This location is a classic representation of the American diner. There are seven stools at the counter and eight booths. Everyone has a view of the open kitchen.
Boyer said the building was originally constructed as a bank in the early 1900s. But the large bank was divided into smaller spaces over the years and this part of the building has been used as a restaurant for at least the past 60 years.
Customers will be able to see the improvements that have been made in the renovation. New floors were installed, along with a brand-new vent hood, grill and range. Boyer is proud of the range and grill, which are top-of-the-line products from Wolf. He also thanked Jefferson-based Weld Specialties for their work on the renovation.
Boyer is happy with how the café looks and he thinks customers will approve.
“They’re going to notice the improvements to the café. The food will be the same,” Boyer said.
He held jobs open for all of his staff and most of them are rejoining him, including head cook Reese Clark and his wife, head waitress Kristi Clark.
“I’m excited, nervous, I have 20 million feelings,” Kristi Clark said as she awaited the re-opening. “You know it’s a good place when people work here so long. It ends up being like home.”
Staff begin arriving at 4 a.m. each day to begin preparing the homemade biscuits and gravy. The restaurant opens at 6 a.m. and is open into the early afternoon.
In the past, Kevin’s Café was open seven days a week, but Boyer now recognizes that might not be sustainable. His current plan is to be closed each Tuesday. The Boyers have three children, Lincoln, 7, Grant, 5, and Jacob, six months, and balancing family and running a business is a challenge. Kathryn Bower works as a lab technician at the Lebanon Health Center.
In addition to the biscuits and gravy, the breakfast menu includes a variety of omelets and chicken-fried steak. The lunch menu is highlighted by a half-pound burger. There is also fresh soup made from scratch each day.
Boyer has worked in the food industry since he was 18 years old and has been a head chef at restaurants where he worked solely back in the kitchen.
The setting of Kevin’s Café, with the staff and the customers all together, is what makes this experience so special, he said.
“The best is the reaction from the customers. You get that here,” Boyer said. “You make something, see it put on the table. Make Mickey Mouse pancakes for the kids. When you’re here, you see it.”