Nora’s Diner named top business 0

Greg Vandermeulen

GRETNA - 

Nora’s Diner owners Jeff and Kathy Dyck say they were shocked when they got the phone call letting them know they had won the first ever Altona Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award in the 10 employees or less category. “I was dumbfounded,” Jeff said about when he heard the news. “It was probably about a minute before I said something. We’re very humbled by this because there’s so many great businesses in this area.”

Kathy agreed, saying they’ve been content to let their business speak for itself. “We don’t go out of our way to promote ourselves like that.”

Nora’s Diner began in Gretna in 2009. Both Jeff and Kathy Dyck are heavily involved in their community, with Jeff sitting on Gretna town council.

A Red Seal certified chef, Jeff said they didn’t have a grand vision when they opened the restaurant. “We wanted to make enough money to pay the bills,” he said.

Kathy agreed, saying they were really only looking at the local market. “We opened this place thinking we’d be here for the locals,” she said. They started off being open four days per week, but increased demand had prompted them to now be open six days a week. They’ve welcomed who they call guests, and not customers, from Winkler, Morden, Winnipeg and around the area.

And there’s a reason why they feel their customers are really their guests. Both loved to entertain before opening the restaurant and say it still feels like they’re opening their home.

“Every night, even to this day, we have butterflies because (it feels like) we’re having a house party,” Jeff said.

The restaurant was named after Jeff’s mom, who had always dreamed of moving back to Gretna. She died in 2002 without realizing that dream, prompting Jeff and Kathy to name the business after her, and add two words to the sign - “welcome home”.

The menu at Nora’s Diner is varied, but it began in a modest fashion. “We started with three items,” Kathy said.

Jeff said in a culinary sense, they knew they were dealing with a “challenging demographic”, one that may not be inclined to try new things. “We’re trying to educate (them) that there’s more out there,” he said.

Jeff will introduce a new item as a feature, get customer feedback and decide whether or not to add it to the menu.

Sometimes it works, like the Wham-Bam Shrimp, one of their signature appetizers. The Australian Sea Bass was also a big hit with many who couldn’t get enough of the tender buttery fish. Sometimes it doesn’t, as in the case of a roasted duck breast that just didn’t catch on.

“We’re listening to the customers,” Jeff said.

Seafood and steaks are a popular part of their fare. The steaks come fresh three times a week from Spenst Meats and the freshest possible ingredients are used.

“Everything is made here,” Kathy said. “We start from scratch.”

“We want to stay as local as possible,” Jeff said. “We live in this bountiful area.”

Creating a homelike atmosphere for staff and guests is important to the owners, and that has paid off.

“We have a great staff,” Kathy said. “They are so loyal to us.”

Being open to feedback, encouraging their staff to enjoy their work, and rewarding them for their effort all helps create a great working environment.

From a chef’s perspective, Jeff keeps it simple, using only the spices necessary to accentuate the natural flavours.

Although business is booming, Jeff and Kathy say they have no plans to get bigger.

“I want to focus on what we do well, and let’s just do it well,” Jeff said.

“We don’t really want to grow larger than we are now,” Kathy added.

Seeing a friendly wave as a guest departs is what makes the work worthwhile for both of them.

“We absolutely think of everybody as our guest,” Kathy said.

The restaurant also allows them to promote the town and area, something they’ve done with historical pictures on the walls and in conversations with customers.

“We encourage and promote this area as a destination to come to,” Jeff said. “We want to be ambassadors for this area.”

Recently they’ve also been able to invest financially as well, supporting local causes, such as getting a new sign for the Gretna Arena.

But at the end of the day, they want the same things for guests and staff. “This is your safe haven,” Jeff said. “We want you to enjoy your time here.”

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