Diner that tried to lift the poor closes in Frogtown

There were great hopes that the opening of the Green Line would provide a big boost for the Daily Diner on University Avenue in Saint Paul. Stephanie March, of Mpls St.Paul Magazine once referred to it as “the little diner that will.”

But it won’t anymore. It has closed.

The Diner was operated by the Union Gospel Mission and it existed primarily for one reason — to teach onetime homeless and/or chemically dependent people how to be self-sustaining by teaching them a vocation.

But today the Mission posted this on the diner’s website:

Thank you for supporting the Daily Diner Frogtown. For 113 years the Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities has been committed to helping the poor, homeless and addicted in our community. The Daily Diner Frogtown – Our Daily Bread vocational training program was one of several education and training programs at the Mission focused on helping our clients to become self-sustaining. Unfortunately, the model of operating a fully-functioning restaurant proved to be cost prohibitive relative to the overall number of clients we were able to train. Though The Daily Diner Frogtown is now closed, rest assured that the Mission remains committed to education and training programs for our clients and the broader community. If you have any questions, please visit www.ugmtc.org or call 651-228-1800. Thank you for your support of the Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities; together we are changing lives.

Pastor Ralph Olsen, the mission’s director of planned giving, spearheaded the project, including figuring out how to pay off the nearly $1 million cost of equipping and opening the restaurant.

The Pioneer Press’ Ruben Rosario told the story in a 2013 article:

But the real payoff comes in the form of Kaitlin Susann, the waitress who served us, and Henry Wallace, a mission client the past three years, among others.

Susann, 25, who now lives at a sober house with nine other women, has battled alcoholism since her teenage years. The addiction cost the Kansas City, Mo., native a treasured nonprofit job caring for children at homeless shelters. She was hired at the diner after she responded to a want ad and has been tending tables since the diner opened April 15.

Sober nine months now, “I needed a place that held me accountable,” Susann said. “Everyone who works here is team-oriented, and it’s a safe place to work and is also giving us work tools.”

She’s also motivated and inspired by former mission participants who turned their lives around and now come to the diner to eat.

Wallace, 60, is nine days into working at the diner as part of the mission’s culinary arts program. He was laid off as a driver for a private school-bus company three years ago and lost his efficiency apartment because he could not find another job.

He slept in homeless shelters for three months until he learned of the mission and its computer and life- and job-skills programs.

So far, “this place has been unbelievable to me,” Wallace said on a day he was learning to host as well as shadowing servers.

He prefers hosting. He sees himself some day as a maitre d’ at some fancy joint.

“Wouldn’t that be something?” he told me.