When the local cafe in Bethany closed in November of 2018, it left a void in this community of 1400 people. A restaurant had been in this location since the 1970s, and it served as one of the congregate sites for Peace Meal, a senior nutrition program that serves a 14-county region in East Central Illinois. Without a place for seniors to dine and socialize, Bethany resident and CPA John Vander Burgh thought maybe he could get a few people in town together to invest in the restaurant and reopen it. What John called “a crazy idea” back in January, turned into a reality in just a few short months.
Several people came forward to invest in the new Bethany Diner. They signed the paperwork in May and then started the task of cleaning and renovating the building, which had been sitting empty since it the restaurant closed.A crew of investors and volunteers have removed and replaced flooring, painted and made the diner ready to welcome customers again. Vander Burgh said that when people heard about the project they stopped in to lend a hand and offer support. Word of the diner reopening has created a lot of buzz in town.
When it came time to look for a restaurant manager, Vander Burgh called upon a familiar face in the community. Pam Hays owned the former Bethany Café from 2003 to 2016. When John approached her, she said yes, not sure if it would really happen. Hays said, “I made a promise and I’m sticking to it.” She’s ready to serve customers again, especially the senior citizens of Bethany who have always had a special place in her heart.
In addition to operating as a traditional restaurant, the space will also return to being a congregate site for Peace Meal. This program, run by Sarah Bush Lincoln, provides meals to anyone age 60 or older with a requested donation. Participants are encouraged to contribute, but no one will be turned away based on an inability to donate. The mission of Peace Meal is to help seniors improve their nutrition, sustain their independence and enhance the quality of their life by providing meals, fellowship and connections to other needed services.
There is heightened excitement in Bethany with the diner now open. Located at 101 E. Main Street, the diner is open Tuesday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch. The menu consists of traditional diner fair, comfort food, Pam’s homemade pies and biscuits.