EVANSTON — Life moves at its own pace at Jody's Diner, a local Wyoming joint that revels in a classic 1950s vibe.
It’s a go-to place for locals, but is more than just a restaurant — it’s where relationships are built, life’s stories are swapped and great comfort food is just a bonus.
“Everything on the menu is good, but it’s not just about the food,” said Elizabeth Haggerty, restaurant cashier. “It’s about the relationships we have with each other, the customers and the community.”
That came full-circle during first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“When we had to close during the lockdowns, we had a customer who gave each of the employees $200 just to help us out,” Haggerty said.
Approaching the modest brick building, once a Texaco gas station situated off Exit 6 along Interstate 80, the diner’s true identity reveals itself as its sign comes into view. In front, the parking lot is filled, mostly with locals.
Upon entering, your attention is immediately drawn to the hometown newspaper strewn across the front counter. Only one is needed, as it gets shared and passed along the counter from one customer to the next.
The scene invites nostalgia.
‘We Are Family Here’
The restaurant doesn’t have any booths, opting for an open floor plan with vinyl chairs and laminate tables that captures a vintage charm.
There is a checkerboard floor back wall is pure 1950s diner kitsch with a mural featuring an old-time diner with classic vehicles parked out front and a highway sign welcoming you to Evanston.
Children’s drawings hang on the opposite wall as do obituaries of people who were once regular customers. They are reminders of the people that make up Evanston and representative of the relationships forged between the diner’s staff and the community it serves.
“The diner has even been listed as honorary pallbearers for our customers who have passed away by their surviving family members,” said manager Kristy Shaffer. “We’ve seen kids grow up and graduate. We’ve seen people get engaged in the restaurant. We are family here.”
People Actually Talking To Each Other
There’s another noticeable difference — hardly anyone has their nose buried in their cellphone. People are actually talking to each other. The entire atmosphere is reminiscent of a bygone era, a time many would argue represents a simpler life.
The restaurant is full, with patrons waiting to be seated. The cashier starts a list, it’s going to be at least a 15- to 30-minute wait for many of them. But no one complains, and no one leaves.
In the mornings, the regulars gather to share laughs and gossip over coffee. These honored members of the coffee club enjoy the lower prices and some extra smiles from staff before starting their day.
“We call them ‘The bullshitter table,’” Haggerty said. “We even have a button for the club.”
Locals Say Don’t Skip The Soup
Despite the atmosphere, Jody’s is a restaurant, after all, and it’s the home-cooked comfort food that fuels all the conversation and bullshitting.
Locals will tell you to get the chicken-fried steak and specialty soups made by the owner Jody Burton.
“Everything on the menu is good, but her soups are my favorite. I come here every Friday for the clam chowder. It’s like a tradition for me,” said Evanston resident Jessica Schneider. “I won’t go anywhere else for soup. This is it.”
Burton has won several awards for her soups that range from a variety of traditional to unconventional.
“We really go out there with our soups, that's for sure,” Burton said. “I have all kinds of soups I make. One of the favorites for customers is cheeseburger soup, which people just love. My soups are always gone really fast.”
Another favorite that always sells out is the cheesecake made by local resident Sandy Shaffer. At 80 years old, Shaffer makes the cheesecake and her daughter and diner manager Kristy delivers it every Thursday.
“The cheesecake is only delivered one day, so it sells out fast,” Kristy Shaffer said. “People love her cheesecake.”
Making The Most Of A Second Chance
While locals clearly enjoy Jody’s Diner, Burton also receives high marks online with more than 2,200 reviews giving it an average score of 4.6 stars out of 5. Her staff says that’s because of Burton.
“Jody did this,” Shaffer said. “We were slow for the first few years, but she worked really hard and she is the reason people stay working at the restaurant and why customers keep coming back.”
Burton bought the diner in 2011 after the former owner said he was going to close it. At the time, she was managing the restaurant, but as a former addict early in recovery, she didn’t think she could make it work. She decided to try it anyway.
“I really believe that God opened the door for me,” Burton said. “I didn’t have credit. I didn’t have money. I couldn’t get a loan. I’m a recovering drug addict. I’m a felon. I just think God opened the right doors so that I could do this. And I am extremely grateful.”
Burton has since created not only a restaurant, but a place where people can gather and connect.
Here, you get to enjoy a great piece of homemade cheesecake made by an 80-year-old Evanston baking legend while leaving the fast-paced world outside, even if for just a bit.