ORISKANY — For almost 10 years, their mission statement was, “Come as a guest, leave as a friend.”
And with the economic ripple effect the 10-month COVID-19 pandemic has had on several area small businesses, Edward White, owner of Oriskany Diner on Route 69, has made the decision to retire, closing his mom-and-pop restaurant.
The diner was open until 4 p.m. Tuesday for a garage sale so that White could try to sell some of the remaining memorabilia still hanging on the walls and decorating the shelves inside the eatery. Some of that memorabilia included a photo of the U.S.S. Oriskany and a painting of General Nicholas Herkimer done by a local artist displayed in the dining room.
“I would like customers to come in and say goodbye,” the owner said.
White was a cook while serving in the U.S. Navy, and garnered a total 40 years experience as a chef and restaurant manager in the area. In his 50s, the Rome native finally received the opportunity to own his own restaurant, and opened Oriskany Diner in January 2011.
Oriskany Diner was famous for its fish fry, complete with sides, salad bar and White’s renown homemade soups.
“We only charged $10 for it and it was a big draw,” White said. “We were very renown for that. Some people call me an icon for the soups I make, and I’m highly regarded for that. It was one of the things I was most proud of — that’s a real staple for a mom-and-pop restaurant. I make 37 different kinds.”
Oriskany Diner was also known for its low prices, offering families an affordable option for dining out.
“We’re known for our extreme low prices and being a good friend to the common man who can’t go out and spend a fortune on eggs and toast,” said White. “Actually we feature that (eggs and toast) as a little hook for 99 cents. Yet we were able to make money, stay open and be happy.”
But once the pandemic struck in March 2020, the owner said it became more and more difficult to maintain his customer base. About two-thirds of the diner’s clientele were elderly, and due to safety concerns, those regular customers were no longer stopping in, White said.
“We took a loss for nine consecutive days, and I still have bills to pay, I need to pay my employees, and still try to make a living,” White said. “But it was a good run, and we had a great reputation. It was a lovely experience just being in the community and making so many friends — serving people. It was a pure joy for me to own my own place. I was in my 50s and had always been a manager and chef, so it was a great opportunity for me and I seized it. We even had a big town meeting with Sen. Joe Griffo here at one point.”
It was memories like hosting Sen. Griffo, R-47, Rome, and the people who helped support his business, including local vendors and restaurants, that made his experience owning his own diner even more special, White said. The owner went on to thank Zomero Coffee, Nancy and Bob Henderson, Marlene and Jim Kernan, Pat Lasher, Capri Pizza, Skip Seigfried, Ferlo’s Bakery in Rome, the Trinkaus family, Celeste Vlawson, Kenny Brown and the Rome Twigs organization at Rome Memorial Hospital.
“The Rome Twigs are lovely ladies, and I was overwhelmed by their generosity and commitment to the community when I worked at the hospital for 10 years,” White said. “I just can’t say enough about working for them, and their support for me at the restaurant here. And the Rome Sentinel has been good friends to us. When the story of our opening was on the whole front page (of the Sunday Sentinel), it was an amazing spring board for us.”
“We were the cornerstone of the community here on the corner,” the owner added. “We know everybody. This place had a high regard for law enforcement, as well as our military and veterans — our Vietnam veterans especially. We also had a lot of military memorabilia inside the diner, and we were really high in honoring our veterans. They felt right at home.”
White and his wife Jackie also wanted to thank their dedicated employees from throughout the years, as well as the communities of Oriskany, Rome and the surrounding area, for their loving support. In his retirement, White said he looks forward to relaxing, playing a lot of golf and fishing.
“I just want to add that I wish all the small businesses, taverns and restaurants hit so hard by this pandemic, to hang on and work hard, and hopefully we make it through this,” he said. “I wanted to retire with dignity, and the pandemic just made my decision easier.”