from Waitress to Restaurateur30 November 2018 Written by By Yesenia Turner
Published in December 2018 Articles
EXPANDING MY HAPPY CAREER WITH DIGGER’S DINER
My sister Yolanda Gonzalez and I are the new owners of Brentwood’s Digger’s Diner. However, neither of us are new to the restaurant because between us we have been serving delicious Digger’s dishes to happy Digger’s’ customers for a decade.
Digger’s Diner enjoys a well-deserved reputation for atmosphere and for tasty food served in large portions by friendly servers. The restaurant is a comfortable place to be. Some customers have been patronizing us since the diner opened. We bring back the old fashioned (and sometimes forgotten) values of offering good service and good food at a good price. We are especially known for our burgers, which are 1/3 pound of quality beef that has never seen the inside of a freezer. Digger’s Diner is also the go-to breakfast place for a number of people. Our patio area provides a lovely place for people and pets. We are kid-friendly, as well, with an assortment of coloring books, toys, and affordable kids’ meals.
Digger’s has always served the community through such things as cash donations, gift cards, and gift certificates. We contribute generously to fundraising efforts by schools and churches. We support food drives and Toys For Tots. We are an annual collection space for drop-offs for the One Warm Coat Drive. Yolanda has two young children and has a heart for doing what she can to make the community a better place for them to live.
My sister Yolanda and I were born in Lakeview, Oregon, but moved to Brentwood when Yolanda was five years old and I was three. We both graduated from Antioch High. The two of us had minor squabbles, as sisters will, but by the time we graduated high school, we had become best friends. We were blessed to be raised by wonderful parents. Our dad Paulo always supported whatever decisions we made, but he taught us by word and by example to work hard and to do our best at whatever we chose to do.
While I was in high school, I worked part-time in several restaurants. Waiting tables turned out to be a good occupation for me because I enjoy interacting with people. I take satisfaction from making people happy, so I do whatever I can to give my customers the best dining experience possible. My attitude was a profitable one for a server to have because customers are usually willing to give a nice tip to someone who has obviously tried so hard to make them feel good about their meal.
Following graduation, I got a job waiting tables at Digger’s Diner, and it was a perfect fit. The owner, DiAnn Lei, turned out to have the same affection for her employees that I have for my customers. She took satisfaction from making our working conditions as good as possible. The attitude turned out to be as profitable for managing workers as it is for waiting on tables because I was glad to give 100 percent for this person who so obviously wanted me to be happy and successful.
Following high school, Yolanda went into business as a State Farm marketing coordinator. She lost her job when the office was sold and spent a few months as a stay-at-home mom. One day I told her that Digger’s was hiring, so she came in for an interview and was put on the schedule. At the beginning she worked a few months at the Concord Digger’s. Before getting into the swing of things, Yolanda said she almost got fired for not refilling coffee cups fast enough. For the first time in her life, Yolanda started drinking coffee herself. She says that the caffeine might have kicked her into a higher gear because complaints about tardy refills stopped.
“So eight years later she still is here smiling at customers and doing whatever she can to give them the most wonderful dining experience possible.”
Yolanda had no ambition to spend the rest of her working life as a server and only planned to work a few months. However, she is a people person, too. She liked the customers she served, the people she worked with, and of course our loveable boss. So eight years later she still is here smiling at customers and doing whatever she can to give them the most wonderful dining experience possible.
At the beginning Yolanda and I were living together in a little Antioch apartment. I was planning to enter a career in health care administration, so was taking classes at the University of Phoenix Concord campus. I actually earned my degree, but realized that I really loved serving customers at Digger’s. I liked my schedule, the atmosphere of the place, and working with Yolanda and the other servers. For another thing, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving DiAnn and working for someone else. The fact is, DiAnn has a genuinely good heart. Everyone who works for Digger’s Diner has a tough time leaving. There’s almost no turnover at all; most of us have been here with her for years.
For a long time DiAnn said that she was training me to replace her when she retired, so she mentored me in the business. From the beginning she had inspired me with her work ethic and encouraged me to adopt her commitment to excellence, her ability to interact with people, and especially her kind nature. DiAnn also showed me how the back-end of the business works including keeping the books, coordinating with vendors, and doing the banking. She would let me observe what she was doing at any point, so I would understand how the business operates and could serve as her manager and take charge of the operations when she was on vacation.
Seven months ago on May 4, DiAnn and I had a lunch together. It turned out to be an intense meal. She told me she was retiring and asked if I wanted to take over the business. The news of her leaving brought me tears of sadness but they became mixed with tears of delight over the fact that she was extending such a wonderful opportunity to me.
Of course, I called Yolanda right away. From the moment she heard the news, Yolanda thought it was a perfect opportunity. However, it was a big commitment, so I spent a month considering whether or not to make the jump. Finally, I called my sister and told her that I would only take the business if she came in with me as my partner. She would be my manager and help with operations. Even though it was a spur-of-the-moment idea, Yolanda jumped in with both feet. “We’re doing it!” she said.
Our father Paulo Vieyra played a key role in the decision. He is a heavy equipment operator, but it had been his lifelong dream to own a restaurant and was willing to provide investment capital for the adventure.
The next few months were “business as usual” in the diner as we made our way through the mountain of necessary paperwork for the sale. DiAnn did all the legal stuff herself. At one time she and her husband had owned as many as six restaurants, so this wasn’t her first rodeo. Even though we weren’t conscious of any change, customers must have been able to sense a difference because on a number of occasions they would ask my sister and me if we were the owners, which had never happened before.
“Digger’s Diner is more than just a restaurant! The challenges, satisfactions, opportunities for service, plus the opportunities for showing love and affection to others and of receiving love and affection from them makes Digger’s much more than just a food-serving facility.”
The transaction finally closed October 17, which turned out to be two days following the restaurant’s tenth anniversary. DiAnn was especially happy to sell it to us. She had bought the restaurant from the original owner, her Aunt Kathy, so selling it to us would make Digger’s Diner an ongoing female affair with three generations of women owners.
Yolanda and I are committed to maintaining the legacy and spirit that DiAnn Lei left for us. In a stirring summary of the place, she wrote:
Digger’s Diner is more than just a restaurant! The challenges, satisfactions, opportunities for service, plus the opportunities for showing love and affection to others and of receiving love and affection from them makes Digger’s much more than just a food-serving facility. However, as people discover and rediscover every day, our tagline “Bringing you the best food at the best prices with the best service, since 1994,” is the basic mission that permits all other good things to take place.
Right! That’s it! That’s what Yolanda and I have been doing and will continue to do to the best of our abilities.
Come, taste, and see for yourself!
Photos By Casey Quist