A week after the surprise closure of one of Wine Country’s most beloved roadside restaurants, the Fremont Diner owners opened up about their decision to shutter the space as well as plans for the future.
The husband-wife owners Chad and Erika Harris said the diner had been a victim of its own success, with demand quickly outgrowing both the space and staffing.
“It was incredibly successful to those who visited, but the model was hard to sustain,” owners said in a email Tuesday.
A culinary media darling since opening in 2008, the funky diner was lauded by Oprah magazine, Gywneth Paltrow’s Goop and Food & Wine magazine, which named it one of the best diners in America. An Instragram-worthy menu with the couple’s comfort food dishes gave them even more cachet, as diners from around the world ventured to the cozy country cafe.
Halfway between the Sonoma and Napa valleys off Highway 121, the Fremont Diner oozed nouveau decrepitude with a heavy dose of John Deere chic and the irresistible lure of a butter and pork-soaked menu. Selling charming local jams, sauces and coveted Rancho Gordo beans, it was a must-do on many Wine Country itineraries, but also had a pull-up-a-chair vibe that regularly brought in locals.
However, the couple said they often found themselves covering multiple shifts day in and day out with the diner, something they say was difficult to sustain, especially with small children at home. Facing ongoing short-staffing, which has plagued the Wine Country restaurant industry especially since last year’s wildfires, the couple decided it was time to shutter.
The Harrises own the Fremont Diner location, which they ultimately plan to revamp.
“Closing the diner is truly a lifestyle choice at this point, and a chance to create something fresh and new for our community; we’re not done quite yet,” said Chad Harris, the restaurant’s chef.
He said it was a decision for their family, first and foremost.
Their 13 full-time and 17 part-time employees were notified about the diner’s closure early June 27, which set off a frenzy of social media questions when visitors found the breakfast and brunch spot locked and two orange traffic cones blocking the door. Looking for the legendary chicken and waffles that made this former hot dog stand a well-known destination, they knocked to no avail.
Questions about the restaurant’s future then began emerging on Facebook posts. When staff took to social media seeking new employment, even more questions emerged.
Though the Harrises were mostly mum last week, they now say employees who were present at a meeting about the closure spent the remainder of the morning and afternoon reminiscing over beverages. They said they’re supporting staff in finding new positions in the Valley.
“The Fremont Diner began as an endeavor to reimagine the good food and nostalgic atmosphere of classic American diners. Over the past ten years our plans for the future have taken shape with the Diner — as have our personal and family goals — and so today we are closing the doors on what we consider to be a very successful chapter,” the owners said in the email.
Erika Harris said the response to the closure has been overwhelming, but they also have received support for a plan to reopen the diner space with a fresh food concept that will “allow us to bring people together, live life to the fullest and do both over a really good meal.”