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The Diner: ‘A great place to eat, with some history thrown in’

The Fond du Lac establishment housed in building built in the 1880s

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November 14, 2023

FOND DU LAC – For not considering herself to be much of a cook, Sandy Ritchie has come a long way in a short time – and she said she partially thanks YouTube for her success.

“Before I bought the restaurant, I had never touched a grill,” Ritchie, owner of The Diner in Fond du Lac, said. “When I started, I had a cook, but that didn’t work out. When the cook left, I had to learn to cook that day.”

Anticipating that things with the first cook wouldn’t work out, Ritchie said she began researching.

“I started watching YouTube videos – that’s how I learned to cook on a grill,” she laughed.

The Diner, located at 175 S. Main St., has been under Ritchie’s ownership since Feb. 10.

“Things are going well so far,” she said. “It was a little rough to start, but now that I’ve got the cooking part down, it’s much better. You can see the grill from inside The Diner, so people are always watching me – it’s a good conversation point. Many people comment on how well-organized I am for being so new to the job. I’m so close to people (while cooking) I can tell you the secrets they’re telling one another.”

The decor and atmosphere inside The Diner, Ritchie said, takes patrons back to simpler times.

“The grill is right there, there’s old lights, the red vinyl, etc.,” she said.

How it all began
Born and raised in Fond du Lac, Ritchie said she took a job with Domino’s Pizza more than 35 years ago to earn extra cash and eventually moved into the corporate world of the franchise company.

“I never wanted to be in management, but it just happened,” she said. “I had fantastic numbers and made good money, but then one day I got a call and was done.”

Ritchie said after leaving Domino’s, a prospective business idea for her in Fond du Lac fell through due to financing.

“The bank wasn’t willing to finance what the (business) was wanting someone to pay,” she said. “But, my banker gave me another idea – ‘How about Connie’s Diner?’ That was the name of the restaurant before I bought it. I told the bank, ‘I’m not sure I can do that because I’m not a morning person.’”

But after looking at the building about a year ago, Ritchie said she changed her tune.

“It’s such an iconic building – it’s hard to be mad when you’re inside it,” she said. “Getting an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan took some time, but here I am.”

Ritchie said when she was behind the scenes in the corporate world at Domino’s, she could be out of the spotlight, but it’s the opposite at The Diner.

“I’m out front and center,” she said. “I thought my work was fun before, but what I do now is for sure fun – it doesn’t feel like work.”

Historical building
A document provided to The Business News shows the building operated as a saloon from 1884-93 on the main floor, run by Ernest Heiden.

The second floor was the home of Paul Vandervoort’s veterinary surgeon’s office.

From 1893-1900, Peter Scholl operated a boot and shoe store out of the building.

Around this time, the original building was split in half.

In 1915, it was converted into a restaurant before becoming a vulcanizing (tire repair) shop under the name Wallicks and Hayward.

“Around this time, the building suffered (damage) from a fire,” Ritchie said. “It almost all came burning down.”

Since 1930, the building has remained a restaurant, going through more than 10 name changes and a handful of different owners.

Ritchie said she’s had several people come into The Diner from out of state with stories about the building and its former inhabitants.

The Diner Owner Sandy Ritchie said customers from years ago come in to reminisce about the history of the building, which dates back to 1884. Submitted Photo

“One of them, the guy’s grandpa owned the restaurant, another lady remembers standing in front of the window in her Easter dress, and I’ve also had a dishwasher who worked here in the ’60s come in frequently and a few waitresses from the ’70s,” she said. “That’s the cool part (about) the building.”

Ritchie said that nostalgia is what makes The Diner special.

“I don’t plan on doing much remodeling or anything like that to the main area of the restaurant,” she said. “Some of the old-timers were a little shaky when I got rid of the ATM and started accepting credit cards. They thought that was too much.”

As for the upstairs of the building, which has sat vacant since 1960, Ritchie said it was made into boarding rooms with a hallway separating the two sides.

Later, Ritchie said electricity and plumbing were installed and the floor above the restaurant became a three-bedroom apartment.

“That was one of the draws to me – the upstairs,” she said. “When the realtor first showed me, it was a sunny day, light was pouring in, there are hardwood floors – it was like angels were singing to me. It has nothing to do with the restaurant, but it’s a neat part of the story.”

Since she invested all her money into the down payment for The Diner, Ritchie said right now, “I’m not able to invest much more into the (upstairs part of the) building.”

“Maybe my kids would take an interest in fixing it up,” she said. “I told myself if I didn’t have a plan (for the upstairs) by Valentine’s Day 2024, I would find a way – maybe that’s opening it up to the public – to get it done.”

The future
Ritchie said she’s “still astounded” by how many people don’t know there is a diner in Fond du Lac.

“A few months ago, I created a Facebook post where anybody who shared the post – which was pictures of The Diner – received a $5 gift certificate,” she said. “I got 832 shares of the post, but only 75 of them wanted the gift card – the rest said, ‘I want to help you out, this is fantastic.’ Many people who saw the post came in and said they didn’t know anything about The Diner.”

Ritchie said she’s still trying to get the word out.

“I’m guessing the average age of my customers is probably 60 or so,” she said. “Many of these people aren’t using social media, but I guess they talk to their friends.”

Also, Ritchie said there are no plans for her to stop cooking.

“Believe it or not, it’s where I’m most comfortable now,” she laughed. “I’m hoping when I get too old, one of my kids or grandkids wants to take over. I’m in this for the long term.”

Hours for The Diner are 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and 6 a.m. to noon Saturday.

The Diner is closed Thursday and Sunday.

For more information, visit or search on Facebook.

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