Nostalgia is the key ingredient at a restaurant that recently opened in Chagrin Falls. It’s new, but the menu is retro, and the location's familiar.
For seven years, the sign outside said Fresh Start Diner, and before that for half a century it was Dink’s Colonial Restaurant, a Chagrin Falls culinary landmark.
Jack Krissinger has renamed it North Main Diner. “I’m the owner-operator-chef-general crazy person.”
He’s a Chagrin Falls townie from way back.
“My mom and dad still live in the same house for the last 44 years.” They’re regulars at his new diner along with other folks he grew up with; "a lot of the guys I played soccer with in Chagrin, and a lot of the people I graduated with have stopped in.”
New owner a former regular
Growing up, when it was Dink’s, Krissinger himself would stop in often.
“I used to sit on the end of the counter. I’d get a burger and fries, and I paid 15 cents extra for the lettuce on my burger. And it was just kind of the local place that you could actually afford to go and eat. Back then there were more places like that around here.”
Krissinger left Chagrin Falls decades ago and developed a reputation as a turn-around specialist for hotel restaurants, a career that took him all over the country. But then the economy tanked in 2008. “So I floated around a bit, and ended up back home and buying the local diner.”
He wanted to bring back the kind of food he could no longer find in his hometown.
“Everybody’s going higher end. Everybody’s trying to come up with the next gimmick. There’s hardly any old-school places.”
Priced for comfort
Except, he says, for his new place. At North Main Diner. he’s offering comfort food at what he considers comfortable prices.
“We have meat loaf; we have pot roast. Burgers and fries for 5 bucks. A milkshake is $3.50.”
Waitress and soda jerk Elizabeth Greenfield makes milkshakes as well as ice cream sodas, malts, floats and 13 flavors of phosphates.
“From simple ones of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cherry, to watermelon, blueberry, raspberry, and Tiger’s Blood which is an old 1930s recipe. It’s coconut, watermelon, and pineapple.”
Tiger’s Blood goes over well with the after-school crowd from Chagrin High where Tigers are the mascots. When he was a Tiger, Jack Krissinger would hang out at the town’s many soda fountains. They’re all long gone, but now North Main Diner has one.
“I went out and bought an old-fashioned 1948 Bastian-Blessing soda fountain.”
Fizzy from New York
A 69-year resident of Chagrin Falls often sits at the fountain. Steve Thomas has been coming here since his early teens when it was Dink’s.
“I would stop here to get a cup of coffee after delivering my newspapers. And I thought that was very grown-up to do.”
Today he has chosen a barbecued grilled chicken sandwich with cole slaw instead of fries.
“In deference to my age and cholesterol. And I’m topping it off with a chocolate egg cream soda which I’ve never had before.”
His waitress, Elizabeth Greenfield, suggested the New York-style treat. “An egg cream is half and half flavored syrup and soda water,” she informs him.
Return of the Mawby burger
But the main attraction at Jack Krissinger’s North Main Diner is what comes off the grill.
“That’s actually the original grill from when it was Dink’s,” says Krissinger, “and most of this is original equipment and been here forever.”
Grill chef Beth Magersupp is another original. “I’ve been cooking in this building for over 30 years.”
Magersupp is expert at cooking the legendary Mawby burger. The owner of Mawby’s, the classic hamburger joint that originated in Cleveland Heights in 1935, was George Mawby, and his nickname was Dink.
“The ladies who owned Dink’s worked for the Mawby’s,” says Magersupp, “and they taught me how to do everything.”
They taught her to make it thin. “It’s a 4-ounce patty served with tomatoes and pickles, American cheese, and of course the Mawby onions.”
We wondered what makes the onions so special. "They’re paprika onions," says Magersupp. "We use a salt and pepper blend on them, and butter, and they just have to cook for a very, very long time.”
She loves the expression on customers’ faces when they open the menu. “And they’re like, ‘You have the what? The Mawby burger? I haven’t had that since I was a kid.”
North Main Diner’s Jack Krissinger says the popularity of the simple burger shows food doesn’t have to be fancy to be fabulous.
“You don’t have to have lobster mac and cheese or truffle mac and cheese. Just make the cheese sauce, make a Velveeta cheese sauce and put it on macaroni! It’s good. Everyone remembers their childhood and that’s what it tastes like.”