Family-owned diner serves up some success in troubling economic times

I pulled into Shari’s Diner thinking about the kind of hall-of-fame poker face it took for the Marnells to smile as they opened M Resort in the middle of a roiling recession.

The diner’s co-owner, Shari Greenfield, would appear to have none of the same concerns Anthony Marnell III and his father, Anthony Marnell II, have as they try to navigate an extremely rough economy. After all, M Resort is a $1 billion, 390-room jewel. Shari’s at 1900 N. Buffalo is a ’50s diner knockoff run on a lease by the Greenfield family.

But, in fact, Shari has more in common with the Marnells than you might think. She worries about the quality of her food and service, the price of her product, and whether the diner’s word-of-mouth marketing is reaching the public. The Marnells’ marketing budget is slightly larger, but you had better believe they’ve lost sleep in recent months sweating every detail of the resort’s experience.

Shari’s opened in September 2007 with the recession gaining steam. Before it took Shari’s name, the diner was a Cuban restaurant. Prior to that, it was a 5 & Diner. She and her husband, former “Good Morning America” producer Barry Greenfield, took one look at the Latino theme and said to themselves, “Let’s make it a diner again.”

And they did. Since then, the Greenfields and partner John Kinikin have experimented with menu prices while keeping the food offerings consistent and traditional. With daughter Collette doing much of the cooking and waitressing, it’s a family business the Marnells would appreciate.

And there’s good news despite the hard times.

“Our business has gone up about 12 to 14 percent in January and February over last year,” Shari says.

They rely on their friends in the Christian community for a little spiritual marketing. During the week, Shari’s hosts three Bible study groups. The second Friday of the month, the diner presents “Gospel and Grub,” a Christian gathering that presents singing and praise groups from churches from throughout the valley.

For the secular set, the diner also produces car shows and sock hops with a live DJ.

“The food is good, but they come back for the show,” Shari tells me, pointing to the gregarious Collette. “When my daughter has something to say, she says it no matter who can hear.”

For Barry, the diner is a second career that makes him smile at his previous life behind the camera.

“I thought TV was stressful,” he says. “It’s nothing compared to running a restaurant.”

And the food?

Tasty, plentiful, and affordable. Breakfast is around $5. Dinner is about $10. Your coffee cup stays full, and you can play some groovy jukebox music for two bits. On Sunday night, the dinner offers all-you-can-eat spaghetti for $6.

If the high-flying Marnell family ever tires of the posh atmosphere at M Resort, the coffee’s always hot at Shari’s Diner.

FIRST FRIDAY: The Las Vegas Art Museum may be as dead as disco, but the intrepid characters behind First Friday continue to boogie in the emerging downtown arts district. The festivities begin at 6 p.m.

Hey, where else can you go to see the work of 50 artists, experience performance art by the Verve Foundation, and witness a tiki carving?

WEB GAMBLING: Advocates of online gambling have found an unlikely ally in their pursuit of legalization: Utah’s Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Your double take is duly noted. Shurtleff says he doesn’t advocate legalization in Utah proper. No flickering neon in the shadow of the LDS Temple for him. And no Native American reservation gambling halls for him, either.

But a regulated Internet gambling doesn’t turn him off.

“Even though we outlawed it for two years now, it is still going on and it is highly unregulated, so you’ve got unscrupulous people rigging the system. People are getting ripped off,” Shurtleff told The Salt Lake Tribune.

ON THE BOULEVARD: Don’t forget Saturday’s St. Baldrick’s Foundation fund-raiser to help fight childhood cancer. The event starts at 2 p.m. at McMullan’s Irish Pub on Tropicana Avenue and Quinn’s inside the Green Valley Ranch. At McMullan’s, daughter Amelia shaves my head at 6 p.m.

Have an item for the Bard of the Boulevard? E-mail comments and contributions to Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith/.

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