Sunday, April 17, 2011

Serving up '60s diner hospitality

A cool spring breeze races across the covered patio with white wooden furniture. The San Gabriel mountain range is a scenic background of rolling green hills speckled with scattered mansions that look like toys from my seat. The waitress raises her voice as a speaker releases the sounds of the control tower signaling the pilot to land. The plane rushes on to the runway and a cup of steaming coffee is set on the table. It is time for breakfast and a show.

Norms diner located in La Verne’s Bracket Airport is a scene straight out of the early ’50s. A waitress in a checkered pink apron approaches the table with a friendly smile.

“OK my love bugs, how can I help you?” she says. The music of Motown fills the rafters of the airfields famous diner as the sounds of the kitchen and conversations of guests collide between the tables and booths. As each party walks in the waitress’ call them in by name, even new comers are secured with a warm welcome like scene out of the beloved show Cheers.

“People who know Norms know it is family owned, and they know that I always know my customers,” owner Cathy Touche said.

Everything on the menu might as well be grandma’s cooking; from pork chops and mashed potatoes to biscuits and gravy with a side of grits and eggs sunny side up, there is nothing but comfort to indulge on. Touche grew up loving the restaurant business. Her father owned Norms and provided the locals with a place to get away from home and have a homemade meal with a little entertainment from the airfield.

“I provide everyone with great food, a majestic view, half-fast service, and where else can you eat on a runway?” Touche said.

Touche can be seen scuttling about the restaurant badgering pilots as they come in for a coffee before flight, catching up with regulars, or sliding into new comers booths to welcome them and give them a taste of her hospitality.

It is places like Norms that make many people, including myself, relaxed and pleased with the little things in life. A good diner can do just that, it provides a friendly atmosphere where one is taken back in time to simpler days, when a cup of coffee, a homemade meal, and good conversation was the heart of life. The restaurants famous Special Breakfast sandwich is an open faced biscuit with a scrambled egg, bacon and gravy and it is under six dollars. Most of the menu runs under ten dollars, with a few of the sandwiches and dinner platers running a little higher.

“I love coming in here every day to work because I know I am giving people the break they need to catch their breath,” waitress Margo Wainwright said. “The runway and atmosphere makes me feel right out of an old movie, I think that is why people love it so much.”

The MayoClinic posted an article regarding the top environments to dine and de-stress in, one of which was home-style diners. It is evident that Norms leaves visitors with more than a full stomach. The waitress’s are often seen dishing out conversation with their guests, making sure that their life is going as good as the food.

“I love coming to eat here, it is like a therapy session with my best friend, Norms always gets my mind off of my stressful life,” La Verne resident Lisa Green said.

For me, eating fast food was never been something I made a habit of doing often. But, Norms is far from eating out, everything is made from scratch and tastes like something my mom would whip up for me. The food and atmosphere is the perfect pick me up to long week.

“I wasn’t raised on fast food so I don’t make it. All you will get here is good home cooking and someone who will listen. I think that is all we need during these hard times,” said Touche.

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