New Hope for Nana's: Church hosting breakfast to benefit employees of burnt-out diner

Nana's Diner owner Teonta Tems surveys the ruins of her business. 
  
 Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Nana's Diner owner Teonta Tems surveys the ruins of her business. Lance Shearer/Citizen Correspondent

You can’t have breakfast at Nana’s Diner yet. But Saturday, New Hope offers the next best thing.

When Nana’s Diner in Golden Gate burned to the ground August 27, it was a devastating blow for owner Teonta Tems, and for her staff, who were left with their means of earning a living suddenly vanished.

The fire also put a hole in the day, and maybe the tummies, of the many regulars who came to Nana’s for breakfast every morning. For at least one morning this Saturday, Sept. 14, the friends of Nana’s, and everyone else who would like to help out the employees, can enjoy breakfast with the familiar crew.

One of the regulars at Nana’s Diner was Grant Thigpen, senior pastor at New Hope Ministries on Davis Boulevard. He was as shocked as the other patrons when he came by to find Nana’s a smoking ruin after the early morning fire that gutted the building and damaged those next door.

“These folks really put their hearts into the restaurant. I know a couple of the girls are doing house cleaning, and two cooks have temporary construction jobs, but some of them don’t have any work at all,” Thigpen said.

In all, Nana’s provided employment for 13.

Breakfast will be served buffet-style from 7 to 11 Saturday morning, but not at the diner, which is nothing but a charred shell of cinder blocks, filled with embers, twisted metal and ruined fixtures. Instead, Thigpen has volunteered to host the meal inside New Hope’s ministry center at 7675 Davis Blvd.

“I asked my congregation for ideas on how we could help, and several said, ‘Why not use our kitchen and our dining room?’” he said.

The cost Saturday morning is $10 per plate, and that entitles the diner to a full breakfast, including scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, pancakes and homefries, along with the knowledge that all the proceeds are going to help people who are struggling to put food on their own tables, through no fault of their own. Teonta Tems, known as “T” to her helpers, said that her crew will all be there, helping out, and head cook Arnie Hernandez will be in the kitchen assisting New Hope’s chef Brian Elwell. So perhaps Nana’s renowned biscuits and gravy will make an appearance.

Tems said that some of her food purveyors, including US Foods and GFS, or Gordon’s Food Services, are helping out with donations of food, and Thigpen gave assurances that the church will cover all costs as necessary, so that the proceeds of the benefit all go to help the employees.

One of those employees is waitress Judy Wise, who dropped by the ruins of Nana’s Diner Tuesday morning “to see my ‘T’ and let her know we’re thinking of her,” she said. The staff and customers at Nana’s, she said, were kind of like a family.

“Almost everybody was regulars. We’d see their car coming in and have their food cooking before they came in the door. Sometimes, Arnie,” Wise told Hernandez, “you’d have their order up before we put the ticket in.”

Additional regular customers stopped by, including Terry Hartline, who was there to talk with Tems about options for demolishing the remains of the building, helping out through his day job as a crane operator. The conversation turned to favorite menu items. Along with biscuits and gravy, the onion rings and classic hamburgers came in for special mention.

“And don’t forget the fried mullet, honey,” added Tems’ friend Ed Miller.

“This is my kind of people,” said Thigpen, who grew up in Labelle, with his mother waitressing at Flora and Ella’s, the legendary café there. So he knows a little something about a good downhome diner. “I’ve loved stopping in and talking to all these guys. This is a bunch of hardworking girls. I know Teonta has been running and running, trying to find a place she can open temporarily.”

Tems confirmed she has been in talks with several restaurants where she could run a breakfast-only operation when the building is otherwise idle, but has nothing concrete yet.

“If people want to help out, but don’t want to eat, they can make a check out to New Hope Ministries, and indicate it’s for Nana’s,” said Thigpen.

If you go:

What: Buffet-style breakfast

When:7-11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14

Where: New Hope Ministries, 7675 Davis Blvd., Naples

Information: 239-348-0122

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