Penny's fills dining void in Yampa

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— When much of downtown Yampa goes dark and silent at the end of another day, the town's newest business gains its second wind.

The Nov. 1 opening of Penny's Diner ushered in a unique dining experience fairly unheard of in the Yampa Valley.

The classic 1950s decorations and standard American cuisine, vinyl-covered booths and wait staff welcome customers 24 hours a day.

Despite Yampa's small size, locals and visitors alike have responded positively to the diner's commitment to serve food in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, Manager Linda Bernal said.

"I think it's going to do well," Bernal said. "There's a certain laid back atmosphere that welcomes you here."

That atmosphere sits especially well with families looking for a fun, inexpensive place to take their children and a menu that complements all ages, she said.

Penny's Diner fills a niche in the downtown, Bernal said, by offering a safe environment for young people to gather after school.

Seventh-grader Andrew Pressley would agree. Pressley, 13, said other middle and high school students in Oak Creek enjoyed hanging out at the diner for a change.

Young people in South Routt do not always have a lot of after-school options, he said

"Other places might close, but this place is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner," Pressley said.

His mother, Annie Pressley, waitresses and prepares food at Penny's Diner.

She said customers appreciated the idea of 'round the clock service.

People who commute to their jobs in Steamboat Springs and arrive home late may stop by the diner for a quick meal rather than cooking at home, she added.

"We hit the spot," Pressley said. "This is something that Yampa really needed."

The Penny's Diner in Yampa belongs to a chain of classic 1950s style eateries that can be found adjacent to most Oak Tree Inns.

The new Oak Tree Inn in Yampa sits behind the diner and provides lodging primarily for railway workers, although the hotel offers some commercial rooms to people not associated with the railroad.

The inn replaced the aging Golden Spike that stood next to the railroad in Phippsburg.

Although the diner's interior matches other Penny's Diners scattered throughout the country, its white exterior stands apart from the customary aluminum siding.

In order to comply with Yampa's historic downtown look, the diner was built conservatively so as not to stick out from the other buildings, Oak Tree manager Dale Roy said.

"In that sense, it's the only one of its kind in the country," he said.

Bill Burgess, president of Lodging Enterprises, Inc., the corporation which operates Oak Tree Inn and Penny's Diner in almost 30 locations, looks for ways to coexist with the communities that host his hotels and restaurants, Roy said.

"This is an organization that deeply respects the flavor of the community it chooses to move into," Roy said.

Roy said Burgess and his wife, Penny, attended a few town meetings to introduce their business to the people of Yampa, and most recently stopped by the Yampa Public Library during their visit in September.

Penny Burgess, for whom Bill Burgess named his diners, donated a copy of her book, "Penny's Diner Love Stories" to the library, Yampa librarian Mary Jeane Perry said.

The book remains highly popular with locals, she said.

"I can't keep it around," Perry said. "People are always checking it out."

Burgess' book includes three stories about three different couples, ranging in age from their mid-twenties to their mid-sixties, who meet and fall in love at Penny's Diner.

In a phone interview from Atlanta, Burgess said the book's cover was inspired by the stirring image of a Penny's Diner in LaVale, Md., in the evening.

"I can recall seeing it as a place where someone driving all night, and searching for something, might come across the diner and somehow find an answer," she said. "I wanted it to be uplifting."

The three stories share some of the same minor characters, but all the characters were of her own imagination and not inspired by any real-life people, Burgess said.

The diner's setting, somewhere in the Midwest, offers the love-struck couples a chance to face their fears and resolve their issues in time for a happy ending, she said.

"They're all dealing with so many different things," she said.

Burgess said she tries to contact bookstores close to the diners about carrying her book, as well as giving a copy to the local library. Off the Beaten Path carries the 315-page book.

She said she is pleased with the book's success and remains open to a second collection of love stores. "Anytime you can offer people stories about people that enrich the soul, I say you can do no better," Burgess said.

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