A family reunion of sorts took place at an ordinary Golden Gate strip mall, one that is now the home of Nana’s Diner.
About eight weeks after the popular country-style eatery’s original location burned down, it re-opened Friday for breakfast and lunch.
News spread through word-of-mouth, text messages and social media.
Around noon, customers streamed into the new location, which is on the northeast corner of Santa Barbara Boulevard and Golden Gate Parkway, just three miles from the old spot’s ravaged shell.
Most people came in groups. Almost all wrapped their arms around Teonta Tems, the diner’s owner, when they got the chance.
Tems did the same right back. She kissed their cheeks and added her usual pet names — “baby doll,” “sweetheart,” “darlin’.”
Her decision to relocate the diner came because her former landlord does not plan to rebuild for at least another year, she said.
“I’d starve to death if I waited a year and a half. And everybody else would, too,” Tems said.
When a Santa Barbara Plaza restaurant became available, she moved quickly to get things going.
“For the past two weeks, I’ve been here daylight to dark,” Tems said. “Come hell or high water, I was gonna open up on Oct. 18.”
Tems said Nana’s will start offering dinner next Friday, though she hesitated to name a date for the grand opening.
There’s a lot to get done, she said.
The 5,000-sqaure-foot space used to be El Morro, a Cuban Restaurant that went out of business.
It can seat 200 people, more than the old diner’s 125-seat capacity. There’s an overflow space Tems said she plans to rent out for banquets, something she couldn’t do before. The kitchen is larger, too.
Inside, the walls are still covered with painted drawings of Spanish colonial buildings and lush hanging ivy dappled with flowers, but the unmistakable Nana’s Diner smell of fried chicken, biscuits and gravy permeated.
Scott Fox, 57, of Golden Gate Estates, sat with his wife at one of the vinyl booths. They count themselves among the faithful who felt lost without the Nana’s food and atmosphere.
“You go somewhere else, but it wasn’t the same,” Fox said. “It feels like you are outta town and going through a new place.”
His waitress, Judy Wise, said Nana’s motto — “Southern food with an attitude” — would still apply.
“We said in the beginning we would be coming back bigger, better and with a bigger attitude, and here we are,” Wise said.
By 1 p.m., two hours before the restaurant was set to close on its first day back, about 200 people had stopped by to share the fresh start.
Nana Vetter, Tems’ mother, opened the diner at its original location in 2000. Tems took over in 2009 after Vetter retired.
The fire that destroyed Nana’s in August has been ruled as arson. No one has been formally charged.
“Sometimes bad things can happen to ya’ and sometimes they can turn around,” Tems said. “I just keep praying that this is going to turn into a great opportunity.”