Local diner finds much love in area, expands
By Liz Young
Tammy Hern and her husband, Randy, know to get to LuLu’s Diner early on Saturdays — by 9 a.m. at the latest — before the lines get too long and the place gets crowded. And it doesn’t matter which Lima location to which you go. If you don’t get there early, you wait.
But that’s OK with the Herns. LuLu’s, they said, is worth the wait.
They should know. Bona fide regulars, they have eaten breakfast every weekend at LuLu’s for the past several years — sometimes twice in a weekend. Which one they go to depends on what side of town they need to be after eating, Randy Hern said. Neither one is better than the other.
“The food is good and the portions are big,” Tammy Hern said. “But it’s really the atmosphere. The attention you get is amazing. You go to a chain restaurant and you don’t get this kind of attention. They treat you like family.”
Which is what owner Amy Musil was going for when she and her husband, Justin, opened the first LuLu’s six years ago.
“It’s a feeling of community and family that we want,” Amy Musil said.
It might not have happened at all.
Amy Musil was student teaching, planning on a career in education, but the idea of running a restaurant nagged at her. She wanted to create the perfect diner experience, something she and her grandmother dreamed up during a cross country road trip years ago.
Her grandmother, Linda Louise (known as LuLu) is the namesake and the inspiration for the diners. Amy Musil said her grandmother always wanted ice cream, and so maybe ice cream will be her next adventure.
“I was passionate about working with people, but I really wanted to come home and open a restaurant. My husband said if this is what your heart is telling you to do, then we’ll do it,” Amy Musil said.
So they packed up and moved. On Mother’s Day weekend 2009, LuLu’s debuted with only a hand-painted sign in the window. The pair figured only friends and family would show; they hadn’t done any advertising.
“It filled up fast. The only advertising we had was word of mouth … and people saw the sign. I think, too, that it was a lot of good friends and people in the neighborhood who saw us working there,” she said.
Having that grand opening be so packed was “probably one of the best feelings I ever had,” Amy Musil said. “People we saw on our first day, now we see them every week. They’ve seen us grow, and they’ve watched our family grow.”
Three years later, the second LuLu’s opened. Now there’s a LuLu’s in Bluffton and a café and bakery in downtown Lima.
And it’s a true family affair, Amy Musil said. They treat customers like family because LuLu’s is her family. She and Justin Musil have a presence at all of the locations, managing, cooking and waiting tables — wearing all the hats — often with their children in tow. Her parents are involved with the business end of operations, and when Amy Musil gave birth to a son three days before the Bluffton diner was set to open, her mother stayed with her so Justin Musil could make sure everything went smoothly.
Now that baby also goes to work with Amy Musil.
“Customers actually take turns holding him while they eat. He’ll coo and cuddle with them,” she said. “When our older son was in preschool, he would come in and eat lunch every week with an elderly couple who were like grandparents to him.”
So, like Tammy Hern said, it could very well be that family atmosphere that creates the long lines gives LuLu’s an edge over other restaurants, but both she and her husband agree the food is top notch. Trust the regulars. They’ve had most everything on the menu.
“It’s not your average menu,” Randy Hern said. “They have a lot of different items, things you can’t get other places.”
A favorite for him is the jalapeno popper omelet: bacon, sausage, diced jalapeno, cream cheese and cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses. It takes up half the plate and comes with home fries and toast.
Tammy Hern likes to vary her choices, but said the breakfast bowl is a good selection, with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, onions, home fries and green peppers topped with sausage gravy and cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses. It also comes with toast.
They always leave full, she said, and sometimes with a to-go box of what they couldn’t finish.
The lunch menu is just as generous and just as good, Randy Hern said, and it’s just as diverse. The bacon jelly burger has bacon bits in a sweet and savory sauce on a half-pound burger with Swiss cheese and comes with fries or chips. Randy Hern ordered it; Tammy Hern wasn’t so sure about it.
“I did say ‘ewww’ to that one. (They) make things up and sometimes you wonder if it will be good,” she said. “But if you give it a chance, you go, ‘Oh my gosh. That’s really good!’”
Amy Musil said the bacon jelly burger was the result of “an overabundance of bacon.” A staff member came to her and suggested making jelly for a burger.
“It’s thinking outside the box. … What can we give people that’s awesome and different,” she said. “We don’t want to be like any ‘Joe Schmoe’ around the corner. We want to give people what they want and a good quality product.”
Amy Musil said she enjoys creating in the kitchen, and indulges her interest in baking at the downtown location. While the diners focus on breakfast and lunch, the café and bakery is “LuLu’s with a twist,” she said.
“I bake and I can’t do that at the other locations. We didn’t want to take anything away from the diners, so we dedicated downtown to baking. There’s limited seating, a salad bar and a small lunch menu,” she said.
And it gives Amy Musil the chance to work with area students. She might have left teaching for the diner, but working with kids remains a passion, she said. She also recently spoke at the Bath Middle School career day.
“The bakery gave me the opportunity to bring kids in, to mentor them and teach them job skills,” she said. “And the community has been so awesome to us, we wanted to give something back. I could have become a teacher, but if we don’t come back to our roots … if people go away to college and never come home, then what will happen to Lima?”
Diner West: 2114 Spencerville Road, Lima, 419-221-LULU
Diner East: 1321 Bellfontaine Ave., Lima, 419-228-3447
Café and Bake Shop: 220 N. Main St., Lima, 419-228-LULU
Hours: At both the West and East locations, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays. The downtown cafe and bakery is open 6 a.m.- 2 p.m. weekdays.