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Sunday Diner: Home Cooked Goodness

There are very few small businesses in North Georgia that we feel a closer connection to than our friends at Sunday Diner. Maybe it’s because we both opened our businesses around the same time back in 2016. Maybe it’s that most of their business and values revolve around their kids, family and love for where they live. Maybe it’s because we’d always run into them around town before and after work and would share the successes and challenges of small business life with each other. Maybe it’s because their food is just really good. 

Whatever the reason . . . whether it’s the friendship, being in the same station of life, having a sounding board as we seek advice and feedback, or just the scrambled eggs, grits, and bacon on Saturday mornings, Michael and Chris and their restaurant have always held a special place in our heart.

Some of you may remember when we first moved into our previous location for our brick and mortar store, that we had an ice cream and baked goods spot within our store. It was called Sunday Sweets and was run by Michael, Chris, and their kids. But that was just the tip of the iceberg (or tip of the ice cream if you like old dad jokes) as what they are most known for around town is their restaurant, Sunday Diner.

Sunday Diner is located in Clayton, Georgia. Directly behind Duvall Automotive and before you get to old 441. They specialize in home cooked Southern comfort food the way your mom made it with the added bonus of having breakfast all day long. We could give you a laundry list of what to try but you’re absolutely missing out if you don’t do breakfast at least once and go with the bigger than your plate fluffy pancakes, crispy bacon, eggs how you want them and Granny’s Tater Cakes – which is this amazing hash brown masterpiece that is worth the drive alone. 

If breakfast isn’t your thing, don’t be shy about going with the Pork Chop Dinner, Smoked or Fried Chicken or one of their burgers. The best part about all the lunches and dinners is that you get your choice of a huge selection of sides, just like my Southern momma, grandma and aunt used to make. Mashed potatoes, hull peas, watermelon, sliced tomatoes, fried cabbage, potato salad, green beans, cream of corn, and the list goes on and on and on as they rotate weekly.

If you end up having enough room (no small feat), you have to get one of their fresh baked goods which are made by Mary Beth and Sarah Grace, their daughters. From cookies to cakes to pies, you’ll need to throw the calorie counter away on these and carry a few home with you for later.

Mike and Chris have 5 kids . . . Mary Beth, Sarah Grace, Britt, Benjamin and Callie Joy. And odds are if you’ve been to the restaurant, you’ve met one or all five of the kids as they have all worked in various capacities in and around the restaurant at some point. Their kids are one of the main reasons they decided to move to Clayton and North Georgia. Mike was working in the corporate world in Maryland and making a 6 figure income in Baltimore but it wasn’t worth it. Mike says,

"I missed all the kids' functions. We wanted to move somewhere we could get back to family and a place where we could be together. This has allowed us to spend time with the kids. I haven't missed a single basketball game or soccer game or swim meet. I get to go to all that stuff now. I feel like I was chasing the wrong thing. I had a 6 figure income but it wasn't worth it. It's not about the money anymore but about our quality of life."

That quality of life has manifested itself in all the ways they’ve wanted it to and more. They live less than a mile away from the restaurant and because they feel like everyone knows everyone around town and it feels safe, it’s allowed their kids the freedom to walk around town or to the store. It’s the slower pace of life, and most importantly, less traffic, that is at the top of their list. Mike’s commute used to be an hour and a half for an 18 mile drive and now they could walk to work if they wanted to. 

Sunday Diner employs 25-30 people during “camp season” and 10-15 during normal times. Beyond the restaurant, the Sunday Diner team provides catering for weddings and events around town, but also for the many summer camps that happen in and around the county. Unfortunately, due to COVID health concerns, all of the summer camps were cancelled and Mike and Chris have been left trying to adjust and adapt to the new realities of being small business owners in the midst of all this chaos. But getting back to the family roots of their business, the kids have been able to help out and pitch in at the restaurant. Chris shared,

"There are some good and bad parts about having the kids work with us. But they get paid so it teaches them how to deal with money and taxes and it allows them to learn some social skills. Honestly, I think the 3 kids who have bank accounts have more money in their accounts than we do! It's crazy because they all just sock that money away and save it."

While COVID may throw some new challenges and wrinkles in the day to day of running their business, Michael and Chris are making it work with a combination of positivity and sticking to their values. They won’t tell you this because they’re insanely modest, but what they do in the community behind the scenes is second to none. From where they donate their time and energy to making sure employees don’t go without if they get sick and miss work. It’s hard not to walk into Sunday Diner and feel their values shining through. When I asked them specifically about their values Chris didn’t hesitate to say what was important to them, 

"We just want to treat people the way we wanted to be treated. That goes for customers. That goes for employees. That goes for the community. They're all family. This is an extension of my living room. Come in and feel like you're at home. That's the reason we make a lot of the choices we do. We don't have fancy plates and things don't match. We want it to feel like you're at your aunt's house or your grandma's house."

As Chris started running through the names of their employees kids and grandkids, Mike chimed in, 

"We try to do the right thing all the time. I don't have any corporate rules that I have to deal with. If someone wants to mix an item on a plate or split a plate, we can do that. We don't have any rules to follow. We just do the right thing by the customer. Support your community and treat everyone fairly. It's that simple. We can do whatever we want to do, because it's the right thing to do."

It’s not hard to spend time with Mike or Chris or eating at Sunday Diner and not see and feel their love and passion. Not just for their restaurant and their staff and community. But for each other as well. While they are no doubt experiencing unique challenges during COVID, they are rising to meet them the same way they’ve risen to meet other needs. They have created an outdoor seating section. They have created an expanded takeout menu that includes Family Style dinners that will feed the whole family (and under $25 too). Dinners like Pulled Pork, Fried Fish, Ribs and Chicken, Country Fried Steak, and Fried Chicken . . . all with 2 of their homemade sides. They are adapting because they have to. But they are also adapting because they are small business owners who care about what they do, their staff, and their customers. Thats why they’ll be here a long, long time. And it’s why you should stop by and visit them when you get a chance. They’ll be there ready to welcome you into their “living room” when you’re ready.