ELYRIA — Donna Dove answered the telephone at her downtown Elyria restaurant Tuesday morning the same way she has for more than 14 years.
“Donna’s Diner,” she said with her usual upbeat demeanor.
But as the conversation quickly turned to the fate of the restaurant, which served as the backdrop for a five-part New York Times article that looked intimately at the lives of some Elyrians, Dove changed her tone.
“I’m tired. It’s been rough, and I think it’s time to retire,” Dove said.
The woman who has become the face of homestyle downtown dining said she is hanging up her apron and calling it quits. She doesn’t have a firm date set, but her food provider license expires Feb. 28, and she doesn’t think she will renew it, she said.
“It’s not that I don’t want to do it anymore, but it’s the people in Elyria,” she said. “They don’t support my business in a way that lets me pay the bills.”
Dove said a typical conversation normally goes something like this.
“What’s wrong? People love this place,” Dove said someone will usually ask her.
“Then I will always ask the same question,” she said. “When was the last time you came in here for a meal?”
Since the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dan Barry graced the Times in October 2012 and Dove went from small-town to well-known restaurateur, she said business picked up. There was a steady stream for months — but not from the neighbors she knows well.
“They were from out of state and out of the country. They came because of the article,” Dove said. “But if I had that kind of business from the people right here in Elyria, I could pay my bills.”
Dove started the diner in 2000. She first made her home on Broad Street and those first few years were hard. She barely knew how to do her taxes or balance the books. Four years ago, she moved to the location at Middle Avenue and Second Street.
Dove said she has had hard times before but the last seven months after been unprecedented. The business has taken a hit as well as her personal life. She had four deaths during that time and needed knee surgery. It took her out of the business on too many occasions and that spelled a recipe for disaster.
She now hopes to sell the business and move on.
“It just breaks my heart,” she said. “But I’m just one person.”
Dove’s restaurant’s closure is just the latest in a long list of eateries that have not succeeded in downtown Elyria.