If you’re looking for a trip back to the ‘50s, the 59er Diner is for you. The retro, old-fashioned memorabilia, and the good old combo of a burger and a milkshake calls to older customers’ sense of nostalgia, and younger customers are drawn to their unique style.
Joe Cannata purchased the diner at Cole’s Corner near Leavenworth from Doddee Olson in 2008 and has operated it ever since. The Cashmere location is at 200 Apple Annie Ave, was purchased in 2013 and is strategically placed next to the equally nostalgic Apple Annie Antique Gallery. The restaurant near Leavenworth was closed due to fire, but is in the process of being rebuilt.
“I’m just a steward of what she has created,” Cannata said. “I’ve always been in the restaurant business — that’s all I’ve ever done. I was on my way home from snowmobiling one night and I was starving. I had a chicken fried steak and I found out that it was for sale.”
It didn’t take long for Cannata to sign off on purchasing the diner, because the decision just “felt good.”
“When you’re looking to buy a business there’s always something that pops up that ends up stopping you,” Cannata said. “I looked at everything right down the line and I never found that thing. I came into the diner in February and I closed the deal on the diner on June 1.”
Both his experience in the restaurant business and the well-established nature of the diner made taking the reins a relatively painless process for Cannata.
“It was fairly easy transition because it had been run so well before I got there,” Cannata said. “All the systems were in place and it wasn’t hard to keep them running. I was living on the property and it flowed easily. We really didn’t change a lot that first year, because the locals didn’t want us to change anything about it. When people are talking to you, you have to listen.”
The drive to keep the repeat customers satisfied through consistency had its challenges, however.
“Trying to stay consistent all the time is a challenge,” Cannata said. “Sometimes I have to settle for good all the time, instead of trying things that will be great one day and more the next day. It’s much better to be good every single day and consistent. … People want to know what the burger is going to taste like every time they come in.”
Another challenge was staffing the Lake Wenatchee location.
“If you’re a 16-year-old living in Leavenworth, there’s 30 restaurants you could work at, why would you choose the one that’s 15 miles up the road?” Cannata said. “There has to be a significant reason to drive up there. The (waitresses) in the location have been there for 20 years, and there’s a handful that worked there when the place opened to when it closed because of the fire.”
To recruit people to his staff and keep them there, Cannata tries to make the 59er Diner the most comfortable working environment possible.
“There’s different generations of kids getting out of school and you have to figure them out,” Cannata said. “Everyone’s got a different motivation, and you need to figure that out. You have to learn what makes them happy and what makes them like their job. It needs to be a comfortable place for everyone, whether you’re heading off to college or you have kids at home you need to take care of.”
His drive to make all of his employees happy and comfortable carries over to his customer service philosophy.
“Making employees have a good place to work and life is a joy,” Cannata said. “Making people’s day is why I do it. Every day you come in and have dinner or breakfast or lunch, it makes you smile. … Everything you do here should make you smile and feel good. The atmosphere should make you feel good; the food should make you feel good.”
The classic-style menu is all made with fresh produce that is grown either on-site or from local farmers.
“A lot of our food comes from our own garden,” Cannata said. “When you’re eating eggs here, these eggs were laid a couple days ago… I’ve had days up in Lake Wenatchee where we’re out of eggs so I’ll have to run to the chicken coop. That’s pretty cool, that the food is that fresh and that you know where the food is coming from.”
Cannata is always coming up with ideas for the menu, traveling to try different kinds of food and always bringing enthusiasm to his work.
“I usually do everything with passion,” Cannata said. “If I screw up, I screw up passionately. I jump in with both feet and try as hard as I can to do things as big and as happily as I can. So far, it’s worked out. I’ve made some pretty galactic errors, but that comes with the territory. When you go big, sometimes you mess up big.”
While he approaches everything with passion, Cannata’s love for the restaurant business is unparalleled.
“I was cooking when I was 17, and I was managing a restaurant at 19,” Cannata said. “It’s all I wanted to do, I liked doing it. Every day is a new event, and you’re the host. Whether it’s a nice romantic dinner at one table, or a birthday party at another table, or a graduation party at a third, you’re the host of all those parties. You have to think about what you can do to give them the best experience for them.”
The 59er diner offers a wide array of classic foods and a plethora of ‘50’s memorabilia to give the customers a unique dining experience that’s all about the atmosphere.
Cannata opened the Cashmere location in 2013.
“The owners of Apple Annie’s asked me to open a location here, and it’s been doing great,” Cannata said. “The Cashmere community is great, and we get a lot of Leavenworth business from people driving up to Wenatchee. We’re trying to get people from Wenatchee to try come out and visit us.”
While the Lake Wenatchee location is being rebuilt, Cannata is planning to find a way to get his products to Leavenworth customers.
“We’re probably going to open a food truck so people can get burgers and shakes,” Cannata said. “We just need something to get us through June or July. … I’m just trying to get something on the ground so people don’t go without our food.”
While the 59er Diner has a diverse menu that appeals to all palates, the biggest seller is the classic combo of a burger and a shake.
“They’re the best shakes in the world; if you’ve had them, you know why they’re so good,” Cannata said. “People like to come to the diner for a burger and a shake. We have a diverse menu with great salads, great breakfasts and great dinners, but people just love our burgers. The most ardent health-conscious biker coming out of Leavenworth will come down and want to have a cheeseburger and a shake.”
“I just want to make people feel like they’re at home, it’s that simple,” Cannata said. “We smile, say hello, and feed them.”