History of the Diner

A row of bar stools faces the kitchen of the diner, awaiting patrons to sit down for a hearty meal. (J2150S/Alex Martin)

Since 1839, Columbia, Mo. has been the home to the University of Missouri and hundreds of thousands of students.  The community has continued to thrive as the University continues to grow and local businesses have provided services needed by students all over campus.  Including in these businesses are the local restaurants that have also been keeping student’s stomachs full for many years.  Being such a heavily oriented college-town, Columbia’s student favorites have been profiled and highlighted by magazines, newspapers, and other media outlets for quite some time.  However most journalists cover the more well known restaurants such as Shakespeare’s Pizza, Harpo’s (one of the most popular downtown bars), and Booches Billiard Hall (famous for their burgers and sliders).  However many students and non-students alike are unaware that there is a diamond in the rough, sitting in a small building in downtown Columbia: The Broadway Diner.

Located on South 4th Ave., just off of East Broadway (the hotspot of downtown Columbia), The Broadway Diner features some of best made-from scratch food one can get in Central Missouri. The Broadway Diner officially opened 23 years ago, however the idea started some twelve years earlier with a small diner on Garth Avenue.  Owner Ed Johnson bought this small made-from-scratch style diner in 1967.  Johnson and his family served customers out of this small building that featured ten stools and a to-go window.  Johnson then bought the Broadway Diner in 1979, and it has been a family affair ever since.

Although Ed Johnson was unavailable for contact, current staff at the diner claims that every member of the Johnson family has claimed to have worked or helped at the diner at some time.  Staff outside the Johnson bloodline at the diner says that Ed has made the diner into a family atmosphere, making staffers feel like they’ve been working with Ed from the beginning. “He’s such a great boss. When he wasn’t feeling so bad, he was always playing tricks on me and telling jokes,” said six-year veteran waitress Kim Martin. “I love working for him,” Martin said.

Over the course of the twenty years, the diner has been a constant in the Johnson family’s life, but it has also seen its fair share of changes.  The biggest change came in 2001 when Ed decided to move the Broadway Diner from its original location, on 218 E. Broadway to where it sits now, on the corner of 4th and Cherry Street.  The move, which also included a renovation and expansion of the kitchen, brought the diner closer to campus and the students, as well as making it more visible for downtown professionals as they make the daily commute to their offices.

Between the original regulars and the newer customers picked up from the location change, one food item still remains the staple favorite at the Broadway Diner:  The Stretch.  The Stretch features a multi-tiered plate of hash browns topped with scrambled eggs, chili, cheddar cheese, green peppers and onions.

Towards the back of the diner, near the restrooms, is where the Broadway Diner framed sign rests on the wall. This sign promotes their signature item ‘The Stretch’ which is recommended by the entire staff for first timers at the diner. (J2150S/Alex Martin)

For first timers coming into the diner unsure about what to order, the obvious recommendation from servers, cooks, and fellow customers at the neighboring tables is The Stretch.  A sign towards the back of the diner, near the restrooms, proclaims the diner’s signature item: “Broadway Diner: ‘Home of the Stretch’.” Once you’ve had The Stretch, then you’ve been to the Broadway Diner.

The Broadway Diner in its 20 plus year history has housed an extremely wide variety of customers.  Open all seven days of the week from 11 p.m. to 2 p.m. each day, the diner is susceptible to a different crowd every night.  Whether it be college students attempting to sober up from a long night at Harpo’s or local chefs, bartenders and servers coming in after a late night shift, or local musicians after their set at The Blue Note and sometimes even Columbia police officers following a long night working the streets, the Broadway Diner feeds them all.  On any given day you can see families, retirees, professors, students, professionals, city officials, postal workers and electricians walk through the front doors.  And almost all of them will leave claiming that the diner has lived up to its own logo and tag line: “There’s No Place Finer Than The Broadway Diner.”

3 Responses to “History of the Diner”
  1. Claire Taylor says:

    I am working with Broadway Diner on their marketing and we would love to use what you’ve already created for the basis of their website. Please contact me when you receive this. Thanks!

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