Country flavor, home style cooking and country style homemade manners is what owner/operator Orlando Riolo and his family have been serving up at the Country Kitchen Restaurant for nearly 50 years.
Located at 6788 Martin St. in Rome, the Riolo family bought the property in 1973.
“Our family bought the property for the auto body shop next door,” said Riolo, as he poured coffee for his customers and took their orders. “The restaurant was here and run by another owner for five years, but then we took it over and have been running it ever since.”
In 1973 the property consisted of three buildings, a farm supply business, the diner and a gas station. Riolo converted the farm supply into the body shop, kept the diner and now the gas station is a car wash.
Over the years, the 78-seat restaurant has changed, but never so significantly as when Riolo put in the sunroom in the front of building, giving people a place to dine while enjoying the day’s light, or stars by night. Something that hasn’t changed are the employees said Ann Marie Riolo-Nicol, Riolo’s daughter and “boss, without a title” who’s been running the diner since she came on in 1990.
Riolo-Nicol said she grew up in the resturant as a little girl, watching her dad and the workers take care of the place. Workers who are still there today. Workers like Karen Underwood who’s been with the place for 39 years.
“When people work here, we’re like lifers,” she said. “It’s not like people come here for a year and move on, they are here five years, 10 years and longer.”
Riolo-Nicol said the weekend cook, George Mendoza’s been here for seven years.
“The guy before him was here 10 years,” she said.” And the guy who was here before him was here 10 years. Once they come they stay.
Asked why the workers have such a loyalty to the restaurant Riolo-Nicol said she believes it’s the atmosphere they try to create.
“I don’t treat my employees like employees,” she explained. “I treat them like friends. I believe if you treat employees well, they will perform well. So I don’t criticize I say, “let’s try to do this, and let’s try to improve on that.
Ricolo-Nicol believes in suggesting things she’d like to see done, as opposed to giving out orders.
She said that works out fine, but when something goes wrong does she change gears and get angry?
“No, not at all,” she said. “I try to talk to them, find out what went wrong. “We work together to find the solutuions to everyday mishaps. Not anyone person has a certain job here. We just do what we have to in order to keep the place running.”
The overall good natured feeling from the owners, and employees must spill out over the customers as well. The restaurant’s customers...yes, customers, also pour coffee, take orders and run for the butter.
“Customer’s think nothing of clearing off a table for themselves here,” Riolo-Nicol said. “And they do a lot more than that. One customer named ‘Rock” comes in a lot and before he even sits down for coffee he’ll start clearing off tables if we’re busy...or even if we’re not.”
Customer’s like Steve Dickson, who’s been coming to the restaurant since 1996. Steve not only pours his own coffee from the behind the counter, he’ll pour yours too, or bring your breakfast out to you. “I help out whereever I can,” Dickson said. “It’s like a family here”
Customers Fred Nackley of Yorkville and his long-time friend Vinny DiMaggio said they’ver been coming in for years for a specific reason.
“Yes, the food is good,” Nackley admitted. “But the real reason we come here so often is Vinny is disabled, and it’s easy to get in and out of here, there’s a lot of space and it’s easy to find a comfortable booth or table in here.”
DiMaggio agreed about the food. “The greens and eggs are delicious,” he said.
Riolo-Nicol said they have a very good turnout for their Sunday breakfast. “Sometimes, we have to turn people away we get so crowed,” she said. “But that only reinforces what her father has been saying for years. “It’s not fast food, It’s good food.”
Louie Smith, of Rome who’s also been coming into Country Kitchen for the last 20 years also said it’s like a family atmosphere, everyone knows each other.
“It’s a nice way to spend the morning,” Smith said.
Country Kitchen is open Monday-Thursday 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Friday 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m.-12 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m.-1 p.m