COLUMBIA — With the back end of a classic red Cadillac sticking out of the front of the building, it’s hard to miss the 63 Diner on Missouri 763 in north Columbia.
But the distinctive look and feel of the 63 Diner is in jeopardy: The building and land around the diner are to be auctioned Wednesday.
The diner, which opened in 1989, has become a Columbia landmark and a favorite dining spot for home-style cooking.
“I’ve been going to the diner since it opened,” said Robin Nuttall, a Columbia resident who writes for the local food blog "CoMo Whine and Dine." “It’s a restaurant that’s always gotten a big local following.”
Whenever Elaine Rehmer, a 63 Diner regular, has friends and family come to town, she takes them to the restaurant.
Customers say the big burgers and heaping portions of chicken livers, mashed potatoes and other side dishes bring them back again and again.
“It’s homey food,” Rehmer said. “It takes a lot of us back to our childhood. Mom was at home and was able to fix big dinners and real mashed potatoes and fried chicken. I think that’s a part of it. The food is just very good, and it brings back memories.”
But popularity can’t always pay the bills. The building and land around 63 Diner will be auctioned off to pay a $1.23 million debt, according to a document filed with the Boone County Recorder’s office. The partnership that owns the diner, 63 Diner North Columbia LLC, has defaulted on the loan. Pamela Acton, Andrew Acton, Imo P. Lane, Janet Acton and Ed Twenter make up the partnership.
No one associated with the business would explain exactly what’s happening with the diner. But John Browning, attorney with the law firm Timothy T. Sigmund Trustee Mariea & Sigmund LLC, said the trustee sale could be considered a foreclosure.
When a company defaults on a loan, property is auctioned off, allowing the bank that issued the loan a chance to recover some of those losses. According to the Real Estate Deed of Trust, provided by the Boone County Recorder’s Office, auctioning was a security clause of the trust created between the 63 Diner owners and Premier Bank.
For now, the diner is open. Co-owner Pamela Acton said she doesn’t know if or when it will close.
“Hopefully, it’s going to still be going, but I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Acton said.
The 63 Diner isn’t the only small business having trouble staying afloat – it’s a national phenomenon, said Brad Jones, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The NFIB puts together the Small Business Confidence Survey, a national monthly survey that tracks financial stability of small business.
Jones said the latest survey shows the rating for small businesses, based on factors such as sales growth, revenue and future hiring, is at a 28-year low.
“The Federal Reserve looks at our studies, and they do so because they’re pretty accurate,” he said. “They are a pretty good indicator if you look at the economy as a whole.”
And the grim picture of the economy right now means many small businesses and restaurants are forced to close their doors. The 63 Diner could become another casualty.
Customers say they’re going to miss the diner if it closes.
Rehmer said she would be “horrified” to see the business close. “It’s one of my absolute favorite places to go eat.
“It’s just a really fun atmosphere,” Nuttall said. “And because the restaurant is so small, it really is intimate. You end up talking to your neighbors, people you don’t even know. Asking people what they’re having, ‘Oh, that looks really good.’ It’s just that sort of restaurant.”
Waitresses wear authentic poodle skirts while serving classic American food. The walls are covered with pictures of singers and actors from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. As soon as customers walk into the door, an Elvis Presley mannequin greets them. Nuttall said the décor adds to the diner’s laid-back atmosphere.
Rehmer has been eating at 63 Diner since it opened and said that despite ownership changes, many things have stayed the same, such as the food and theme.
The diner has had a complex ownership history, especially in recent years.
Mary and Norton Evans, after moving from the now defunct restaurant Sachs Sixth Avenue, opened the diner in 1989. In August 2005, the diner was purchased by 63 Diner North Columbia LLC. At the time, the group included Kevin Brown, Barry Nichols and Craig Hindelang, the former co-owner of Colosseum Bistro, according to documents from the Boone County Recorder’s Office.
Hindelang, according to documents from the Boone County Recorder’s Office, left the partnership in 2005.
Ownership of the diner changed hands again in 2007, and the current owners have been in place since then.
As the owners have changed, so has the thick crowd that once filled tables at the diner, Rehmer said.
“Everything was kept the same,” she said. “I felt that there weren’t as big of crowds after the ownership changed simply because they weren’t willing to give them a chance.”
Nuttall said even if the 63 Diner changes hands again, she wants to see the restaurant keep its traditional décor, filling food and consistency.
“Same cooks, same menu,” she said. “I really wouldn’t change anything about the place.”