Oklahoma eateries reap benefits of ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ visit

BY DAVE CATHEY, Food Editor, Modified: March 3, 2010 at 4:35 pm •  Published: March 3, 2010

When Guy Fieri came to town last spring, he promised that the Food Network program he hosts, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” would make a major impact on the restaurants visited. That’s a promise you can count as kept.

Triple D visited six local restaurants back then: Nic’s Grill, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, Ingrid’s Kitchen, Mama E’s Wings and Waffles, Eischen’s Bar in Okarche and The Diner in Norman.

The Diner
While each of these eateries report substantial increases in business since their segments ran, one restaurant has met with tragedy.

Business has been brisk at The Diner in Norman, but that’s nothing new. What is new is the ownership. Owner Mark Amspacher died last month at age 56, and his daughter Bonnie is running the cafe with the help of a resolute staff and community support that she describes as humbling and inspiring.

"It’s just been tremendous,” Bonnie said. "I grew up here, and I know what a great town it is, but the amount of support has really made me appreciate it so much more.”

Mark Amspacher grew up in Norman, too, in and around the family grocery store.

A veteran of several kitchens in the metro area, Amspacher landed in front of the griddle at The Diner in the early 1990s. When previous ownership was unable to keep up with the taxes, he was out of a job. It wasn’t for long, though, as local attorney Ben Benedum approached him about buying the place himself.

With Benedum’s free legal assistance, Amspacher bought The Diner in 1996.

When producers from Food Network called, it validated the efforts Mark Amspacher put into keeping alive the tiny downtown cafe with more than 100 years of history.

"I’m really glad he lived long enough to get the recognition,” Bonnie said. She also said producers from Food Network made a charitable donation on her father’s behalf when they heard news of his death.

Bonnie said Juan Herrerra is still cooking as he has since her dad took over the place, and they plan to keep The Diner open as long as people are willing to come in for breakfast and lunch.

"The show has definitely increased our business,” she said. "But we don’t have much capacity, so the biggest difference is the new faces we’ve seen.”

Nic’s Grill
That’s a phenomenon Justin Nicholas, owner of Nic’s Grill, can relate to. With fewer than 20 seats and a faithful group of regular customers, a bump in capacity isn’t possible.

"If you try pouring five gallons of milk into a one gallon jug, you’re still only going to get a gallon of milk,” Nicholas said. "But we’ve definitely seen a lot of new faces.

"I had a lot of regular customers before, but now I’ve got a whole new set of regular customers.”

He also said he’s met people from all around.

"I just had three different groups come in who said they drove in from out of state to see the Elton John/Billy Joel concert and that they saw us on the show.”

Fieri said in an interview after filming that if Nic’s didn’t have picnic tables by the time he got back, he was bringing them himself. See segments from Fieri's visit to Oklahoma City


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