PAINTER CREEK – John and Toni Willis are opening Toni and John’s Route 571 Diner in this eastern Darke County village, located on State Route 571-East at Schnorf-Jones Road.
“We owned the Bulldog Diner in West Milton for 12½ years and sold it,” Toni said. “I went to work for Milton-Union Schools for awhile and missed my customers. I missed it, so we moved farther away so as not to be in much competition.”
Their current location, she said, is a big square building, which used to be a carryout.
“We started with an empty shell here,” she said.
Now, things have come together and will surely delight customers with the décor, not to mention the food.
“We’ve been around the world,” said Toni.
Husband John does much of the cooking. A former millwright, he runs such equipment as the charbroiler, grill and deep fryer in the kitchen right out in front of the customers. Toni also cooks, especially the breakfast orders and lunch specials.
There will be a steak of the week offered and daily specials will be announced.
“We tried to keep our prices cheap as we could,” she said. “Our burgers are made of Braveheart Black Angus Beef, top choice. It’s incredible.”
Toni makes the fruit and cream pies and cakes as well as homemade chicken and potpie and noodles and soups.
“I am making a German chocolate cake, a chocolate with homemade caramel icing and a mandarin cake for the grand opening,” she said. “My German chocolate cake is to die for.”
The Willises’ theme at the diner is two-fold: Christian/farmer – and that is reflected in the menu she has created.
Some of her breakfast titles are “When the Rooster Crows,” “Blessing the 3 Eggs,” “The Sweetest Things” with choice of meat, “Oola-Ala-Cart” and “Before the Chores.”
Additional ones are “It’s Supper Time,” and “Tag A longs,” with those dishes named after family members. The “Quench the Thirst” category, of course, are the beverages that are available.
More items on the menu have been categorized as “In the Beginning” with the appetizers; “Soup for the Soul,” “The Field of Dreams” (salads) and “Mid-Day Miracles.” (sandwiches).
The diner is closed on Mondays and open from 6 a.m. to 7 pm. Tuesday through Thursday; on Friday, 5 a.m. (for Bible study) until 7 p.m.; and from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Among her employees is Stephanie Jackson, who will serve, and has helped with getting the diner ready to open.
The Willis couple lives on Rangeline Road , only eight minutes away from their new diner.
“My children went to school at Franklin-Monroe and we’re hoping to get our granddaughter Addie, who we are raising, into school there,” Toni said.
Why did they choose this location for their diner?
“I think a lot of traffic goes by here every day,” she said. “If you cook good food, they will come. Failure is not an option. It’s not in my vocabulary. This will work. “
John, who hails from Vandalia, and Toni, from West Milton, have been married 24 years. Altogether, they have five children and seven grandchildren.