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Winter storm forces restaurant owner to make decision that affects her customers, employees and profit

"The Diner" lost profit the first day of the multiday snow storm but the owner decided to open for business the second day for her loyal customers.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Finding a restaurant to eat or drink at during a winter storm is a rare occurrence, but for Tara Elkins, owner of The Diner in Downtown Davenport, it's a decision that is harder to make than it seems.

"We're everyday people just wanting to make a living," Elkins said. "But safety does come first. And so for our guests and our employees, I did have to make that decision."

That decision? To close her restaurant early on Dec. 22 as a winter storm rolled through. 

She says fortunately, they were able to have been open for most of the day, but that it's still disappointing to close early and send her employees home early, cutting their expected paycheck.

"This is definitely a time where people do want to work and don't want the weather to affect their income with the holidays [near]," said Elkins.

And even for the next day of the storm, a Friday which Elkins says is one of their busiest days, she had to force three workers home early.

"At first I start out with [giving] options to the employees. But if our employees don't feel comfortable going out in the storm, I never want to pressure them to come to work."

And for Tyler Hanson, a bartender and waiter, he says the decision was a no-brainer.

"There could have been ten feet of snow and I still would have needed to be here for financial survival," Hanson said. "If I would have chose to go along with not going to work, then I can't pay my rent, then I can't pay my electric bills, then I can't pay my cellphone bill."

Hanson says on Thursday Dec. 22, he served about 40 customers. Typically, he would have served 60-100. And on Dec. 23., he says around noon, the place would have packed with an active wait list but because of the storm "I think everyone's just kind of scared of the cold weather and they're just hesitant to make the time to get over and get out of the house. Which I can understand but it's just sad to see not everyone be able to make it out." 

But some people did make it out to The Diner because Elkins decided to keep it open despite losing profit the first day of the storm and a high likelihood to do it again.

"We wanted to be here for those that did venture out," Elkins said. And it's venture out some customers did.

"We wanted to go someplace warm and feels like home," said loyal customer Amy Snook. "This place is that." 

Snook says the atmosphere is warm, inviting and hospitable.

Elkins has custom drinking glasses for Amy and her husband, a small sign of gratitude for coming to The Diner at least once a month, but an act that the Snooks say mean's a lot.

"It's awesome," Snook said. "I mean, my name's right here and it's just nice."

And even for new customers, Elkins ensures everyone is treated well and with respect.

"This place is very festive," Twenty-five-year-old Quad City native Raymond Marquez said. "When we first came in they greeted us and that was very cool."

Marquez was born in the quad cities and moved out to go to college in 2015. Now, he and his wife Johannah Marquez live in Indianapolis and are visiting the QC to see Raymond's parents. 

"So last time when we were here, we were gonna come here with my family. They told us about it. And so we didn't get to go last time, it was very busy." And now they've gotten the chance.

The Diner is located at 421 W. River Drive in Davenport. 

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