By Emma Welsh-Huggins
On Saturday mornings and weekday evenings, students often make their way into Mount Vernon for a taste of home. Although best known and enjoyed for its all-day breakfast menu, R & M Southside Diner in Mount Vernon offers a wider variety of choices than most are aware. As Assistant Manager Andrew Wishart explained, “We try to make sure that there’s something for everyone, and, you know, we sell everything from Chinese to American to Mexican.” Part of the establishment’s appeal is that “if someone wants to come in and get a $5 lunch they can; if someone wants to come in and get $12 lunch, you know, they can,” he said. The appeal is doing its job because on a typical Sunday, the restaurant serves around 1,100 people, according to Wishart.
When Roger McCoy and Myron Coblentz opened the diner in 1996, the building had already spent years serving up comfort to the community. Originally opened as a Perkin’s Restaurant in 1964, it switched hands and purposes until McCoy and Coblentz’s purchase in 1995. And although it has stayed under the same ownership since then, “everything has changed,” said dining room manager and employee of 16 years, De Ann Ritchie. “We used to run a lot smaller-scale, run with a lot fewer servers.” But over the 20 years of its business, growing appreciation of the restaurant’s friendly atmosphere and fast service quickly created a need for expansion.
Another popular aspect of the restaurant is its eclectically retro — think 1950s — furnishings, from records hung on the wall to antique car details to old James Dean movie posters. Indeed, the main dining room is evocative of a bygone era. As Sarah Nourie ’17 said, the experience “takes you back in time to when breakfast really mattered.” The decorations are, in fact, from McCoy’s personal collection, amassed over the past few decades. He has such a large collection that the pieces are often rearranged or switched out every few weeks, in part to keep regulars, such as P.F. Kluge, Kenyon’s writer in residence, on their toes. “At breakfast I always order cornmeal mush — which would be called polenta in a pricey Italian place — and link sausages,” Kluge, who also serves as the Collegian’s advisor, wrote in an email. As mentioned above, affordable and friendly service has been a constant for the establishment. The restaurant has served dozens of generations of Kenyon students, always offering a student discount (5% off) and catering to the changing needs of the student body. Wishart said that student use of the restaurant has changed over time. Some years students come in large groups to do homework on weeknights, while other years students mainly come for brunch in small groups of two or three.
Over the last two decades, many restaurants in the area have fallen victim to a depressed economy or lack of patronage. But as Wishart emphasized, Southside’s success has come from “hitting multiple markets, multiple age ranges [and] multiple demographics.” In addition to Kenyon and other college students in the area, Mount Vernon and other Gambier residents make sure the dining room is always busy, with new and old faces coming in to enjoy a meal with friends and family. As Julia Kaplan ’17 put it, “It’s not just its comfort food and delicious milkshakes, but the local charm that makes the experience as enjoyable as it is.”
Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Andrew Wishart’s name was mispelled as Andrew Wichart. The Collegian regrets the error.