Mel’s Diner offers nostalgia, home cooking | Local News
Going to Mel’s Diner is like stepping into the nostalgia you can feel.
The iconic restaurant on the north side of Fremont looks like a restaurant from the 1950s.
Black-and-white checkered floors and bright red-and-white cubicles add to the retro decor. A thin line of red neon glows near the dining room ceiling.
It’s late on a Saturday afternoon – between the lunch and dinner crowds – and the restaurant is still quite busy.
A man talks about fishing with a buddy at a table. A middle-aged son sits with his elderly mother in a cubicle.
“Goodbye kids,” says a friendly waitress as a young couple leaves with their baby.
Mel’s is a casual place where the only lively people are waitresses carrying plates full of hot meatloaf sandwiches or big burgers with piles of fries.
It’s a comfort food place – fried chicken steaks, pork tenderloin and fried chicken – all homemade and served with mashed potatoes and gravy.
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Even so, Mel’s also has a more modern twist, with menu items like salmon salad with raspberry vinaigrette, buffalo chicken wrap, and fettuccini alfredo.
A modern touch is also incorporated into the decor, with flat-screen TVs that guests can watch while seated at the lunch counter.
Famous TV or movie sayings like “Here’s Johnny” or “Houston, we’ve got a problem” are written in white letters on a red background at the top of the walls.
Although such sayings came out after the 1950s, they still produce memories of times long before people ordered coffee drinks on smart phones or went to a sushi bar in Cornhusker State.
Even the name of the restaurant – Mel’s Diner – reminds more seasoned diners of the restaurant from the popular TV show “Alice”, from the 1970s and 1980s.
Yet the man behind Mel’s Diner in Fremont is not called Mel at all. His name is Jim Coover.
A graduate of Fremont High School in 1980, Coover has been in the restaurant business since he was 15 when he worked at the old Brestwood Inn in Fremont.
He began working at the Village Inn in Fremont in the mid-1980s.
Later he moved to Florida, continuing to work for the Village Inn chain for 18 years.
Coover worked for the Perkins restaurant chain for a time before returning to Fremont.
In the summer of 2011, restaurateur Craig Corn bought land next to Sapp Bros. He poured a concrete foundation in Fremont.
He then bought the Hollywood Diner at 156th and Dodge Streets in Omaha.
Corn enlisted five guys – building moving and reassembly specialists – from Ormand Beach, Florida, as well as heavy equipment operators.
A Fremont Tribune article told how the building was in several pieces – the three largest sections weighing 55,000 to 68,000 pounds. Yet it only took hours to reassemble it on the concrete base.
Then the interior was built. Countertops were built, tiles were laid, chrome and stainless steel were installed. So were cabins, appliances, and everything needed to run a restaurant.
The colossal job was completed in just over two months from start to opening day when, as Mel’s website describes, the guys lined up at the counter to sip coffee and chat about the event.
After opening on October 4, 2011, Mel’s at 4240 N. Broad St. was open 24 hours a day, but that hours was later reduced.
Corn then hired Coover, who would become the owner of Mel’s.
The restaurant is open from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday and Monday and from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, waitresses – wearing T-shirts with a red Shelby Cobra Mustang on the back – continued to bring plates laden with food or plastic cups of pop to diners.
And if they had a little space left after their meal, customers could choose to buy a slice of homemade apple or cherry or chocolate cream pie (or a whole pie).
The next morning, hungry diners could return to Mel’s for a ham steak breakfast with eggs, hash browns and toast.
And in a place that can also nourish the stomach and the heart.