Photos & Story by Dave Warner
There is an abundance of history in Little Falls…just ask the Historical Society and they can go on for hours. But a lot of times, you can walk past it without really getting to know how historic a place might really be.
That’s the case, with That Little Place on Main, which is a vintage example of an old diner. Gary Bowman, owner of the establishment estimates that it arrived in Little Falls around 1923. One of the keys to this date is the barrel roof in the diner, which was discontinued in 1930. Gary is busy trying to restore the look of that roof inside, having already pulled out the white acoustic ceiling tiles in the kitchen area and restoring that section.
Another clue to its age are the types of screws used to put the booths together. They are the type that went out of style in 1936 when threaded screws became vogue, according to Bowman.
Bowman states “we’re five and a half years in now, owning the business.” How did he get started and why did he decide to buy it? According to Bowman, “the reality is not interesting, I just bought myself a job.”
He’d been in construction all of his life, but projects were spotty and hard to find. In a six or seven month period, you might have two where you didn’t have any work at all. “It just got to be not conducive to the things I wanted to do,” said Bowman.
“I didn’t want to have to spend an hour and a half to two hours on the road each day going to a job site. I was happy to be working, but it wasn’t enough work,” Bowman said. “I couldn’t see my kids get on the bus, I couldn’t see them get off the bus. I just missed too much.”
Now that he has the diner, Bowman sometimes misses having a boss – someone to go to to ask what to do next. “I miss going home at night and leaving work behind me,” he said. “But, I’m paying my bills, so that’s a success story to me.”
Bowman thought he knew what going into the restaurant business would be like. “I guess I didn’t think about all of the strains that would have been put on everybody else. If you don’t watch it, this business has the ability to take more than you have to offer. In my quest to make time for the kids, maybe I sacrificed some things. I didn’t expect it to be all-consuming.”
He thought that after a few years, things would get a little easier. “I found that the learning curve was just a bit longer than I anticipated,” said Bowman. “Every quarter you figure something new out about the business and it invigorates you to go to the next quarter though.”
Bowman likes gardening and food, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for him to think he could own a restaurant and cook in it. He thought “people are always looking for a place to eat, so maybe that would be a good thing to do. I had some ideas about how I thought food should be served or how food should be presented…the kinds of things people should or shouldn’t get when they ordered a meal.”
Bowman said “It’s something I thought I could be good at.” The Sunday morning ‘dad’s breakfast’ was about all he had tried prior to getting the restaurant.
Bowman had considered an ice cream shop, a green house and a couple of other ideas before he saw the diner and figured “I’ll give it a shot.”
Bowmans love of gardening makes him very picky when it comes to fresh ingredients for his meals. “It’s not only an economical way of cooking, but a tastier one,” said Bowman.
He tries to get all of his produce from his own garden or the co-op. He also makes it a point to shop locally for breads and meat, using White Rose Bakery and Kelly’s Meat Market. “They put out really great products and I like the opportunity to support other local business,” he said.
His thoughts about going into the diner business and the quality of food he serves? He says you can’t trick people. “I can give you a nice plate the first time you come in here, you’ll sit down and eat it and maybe it won’t be that great. You’ll be polite, you’ll pay for it, and you don’t come back. You can trick people to get in the door, but you can’t trick them to come back.”
According to Bowman “people know the difference between fresh bought off a truck, or from a can. You can tell. So, I give them the kind of food I would want. If you cook honest, people will come back.”
Bowman even goes so far as to tap his own maple syrup. “We hand carve our own taps, tap our own trees on our land and cook it off. That’s my time to get out in the woods, walk around, carry some buckets…it’s a lot of work, but I really enjoy it,” said Bowman.
Bowman saves up a lot of cherry wood for the process “and the smoke just rolls over the barrels. It gets a smokey flavor in the syrup that you can’t get out of an evaporator,” stated Bowman.
Bowman likes seeing people impressed with something he has prepared and likes working with the family. “Having an opportunity to do the kind of things that I think are artsy or that I’ve thought about and incorporate them into the building a little bit and have people react to that in such a way…that I’ve always gotten a kick out of,” he said.
There is the barrel roof still hidden above the dining area and he plans to open that up and make it more ‘dineresque’. Bowman said “It’s going to end up being nice tongue and grove with poly and some nice lighting with the warmth and glow from that wood. It will be real nice and more conducive for dinner.”
The diner has breakfast and lunch, and has now expanded to dinner on Monday, Wednesday and Friday until 7:00 pm. “I’m going to start off with some easy dinners that I think everyone will like. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, spaghetti with a salad and some nice Italian bread, things like that,” said Bowman. “If I can find that everyone will let me get away with switching it up and doing what I want to do for dinner, I’ll switch out. But, if I find that the base wants something they can count on each night and get certain things, that’s what I’ll do.”
If you want some great food, interesting 50’s music in the background and bit of that nostalgic feeling, give That Little Place on Main a shot. You can find out more about them by calling 315-508-5083 or visiting them on Facebook.