BRANSON — When a new restaurant opens, it is trying to get people to believe in it.
But with Downtown Diner in Branson, that's also the case for everybody who works there. All the employees, including the manager and assistant manager, are recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.
"I like it here," said waiter Sam Ward. "It's a fun place to work. I work with people I met through the program."
The program he is talking about is the 12-step program run by Church Army, which owns the restaurant. Downtown Diner allows those who are trying to get their lives back together a steady paycheck and some practical work experience.
That is the case for Tonya Trivitt, who also works as a waitress. Trivitt, who said she had problems with methamphetamine and alcohol, has been clean since April 2009. She recently regained custody of her children from foster care, including her two 4-year-old twins. She lives in Galena.
"I like working around people with the same problems," Trivitt said. "There is a spirituality because we're in the same place. These people are my family."
The back of the menu explains the purpose of the restaurant, so customers are aware that their waiter and cook are recovering addicts. Ward said it makes it even better that the customers know.
"People read the menu and they have somebody in the family that's been through addiction, and it gives us a connection," Ward said.
Ward, who is from Paragould, Ark., has been off drugs for seven months now. He said it started with an addiction to painkillers but moved to heroin before he realized he needed help.
"It got to the point where it wasn't about getting high," he said. "I was just trying to stay normal."
The restaurant's manager, Dyan Baughan, said the idea had been in the works for five or six years. Baughan has been in the restaurant business for many years but battled a drinking problem.
The restaurant has 11 employees, which she expects to grow to 30 in the next year. She said that because they are all in the Church Army program, they are great to work with.
"These are the best employees I've ever had," she said.
The plan is for the employees to work at the restaurant for a year. Those who choose can get training that will qualify them to be an assistant manager at any restaurant.
"You could get an assistant manager job anywhere," Baughan said. "Or you can just have a safe place to work."
Baughan said the restaurant has been a success so far. She said the traditional diner fare is intended to cater more to local customers than tourists.
"We already have regular customers," Baughan said.