Glenwood Springs diner marks 30 years of sticking with what works
Some restaurants pride themselves on changing things up, but this weekend, Glenwood Springs’ 19th Street Diner is celebrating 30 years of tradition — and the customers love it.
“There’s a lot of people who like knowing that it’s going to be the same,” said co-owner Tonya Wernsmann. “We know their name and their drink when they walk in.”
Tonya and her husband, Rick, bought the place from 19th Street Diner founders KG and “Swannie” Schwanebeck in 2007, but she’s been working there since 1995.
“I was pregnant when I started working here and now she’s in college,” she said of her daughter. “There used to be a pay phone in the hallway and now I have to give out the WiFi password.
The original building dates back to the late 1950s, and has hosted a wide array of restaurants, including Gallacher’s, the Epicurean, Uncle Dale’s and Joker’s Wild. It’s had several additions in the meantime, leaving it with two big rooms sandwiching the kitchen today.
“We try to let people know that there’s more seating,” Rick said. “It’s a bit more family friendly in the front and can get kinda rowdy in the back, but there’s food and drink on both sides.”
Everything’s served all day, though the deep fried french toast is particularly popular for breakfast, while the liver and onions are a lunchtime staple and the house smoked ribs are ideal dinner fare. Some folks just stop in for shakes “like they used to be made.”
“Diner cuisine is pretty much everything,” Rick added.
The building was already the 19th Street Diner in 1989 when the couple met at Colorado Mountain College, where Tonya studied English and Rick studied photography. Tonya remembers it as a bar when she was young.
“My mom used to say don’t ever set foot in a place like that, so she wasn’t too thrilled when we bought it,” she said.
Rick, whose food service experience was limited to slinging pizzas in college, joined the team in 2005 and quickly rose through the ranks to general manager.
It made for a seamless transition when the Schwanebecks sold the business to the Wernsmanns in 2007.
“The same customers walked through the door the next day,” Rick said.
Since then, they’ve made a few changes but kept the spirit of the place the same. They also carried on the tradition of birthday parties, though they’re not always as wild as they were in the past. This weekend’s event, though, is something special.
“I’m really excited about this one,” Rick said. “How many restaurants in Glenwood have been around for 30 years?”
The kitchen will close at 3 p.m. Saturday to begin prep on hors d’oeurves from smoked salmon to street tacos to Swedish meatballs. Free food starts at 5 with karaoke at 7 with costumes around at Saturday Night Live theme – a tribute to another long running institution with an ensemble cast.
“We see a lot of customers at least two or three times a week,” Rick said. “There’s a lot of characters here on both sides of the bar.”
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The first in-person local festival of the year has arrived with Dandelion Day making its return to Sopris Park in Carbondale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday.