Weekly Feature

2013-01-16 / Business

Turning recession woes into successful family business


Scott and Jamie Winger have owned and operated Emily’s Family Diner — named after their 5-year-old daughter — for the last four years. 
Photo by Jim Smerecak. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Scott and Jamie Winger have owned and operated Emily’s Family Diner — named after their 5-year-old daughter — for the last four years. Photo by Jim Smerecak. Purchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com When the economy started to collapse around them in 2008, Jamie and Scott Winger could have collapsed right with it. Instead, they chose to be strong for themselves and their daughter, taking quite the leap of faith.

“Jamie was a school teacher, and four or five years ago with the cutbacks she lost her job,” Scott Winger said. “Then when the housing market went down, my business went downhill.”

Scott Winger was involved in construction. After 20 years in business, when the housing bubble burst, new builds slowed down significantly.

So, confronted with their combined misfortune and the need to care for a newborn, the pair decided to risk it all and go into the restaurant business.

“We always thought he should open a restaurant because [Scott] was always a good cook,” Jamie Winger said.

Four and a half years later, that risk has paid off. Emily’s Family Diner, at 9105 Sheridan Drive, is a popular spot for regulars in Clarence as well as travelers passing through town via Route 5.

The restaurant was named after the couple’s daughter, now 5, and the Wingers say she really is the one running the show.

“She’ll tell you that she owns a restaurant and her mommy and daddy work for her,” Jamie Winger joked. “Then she’ll tell people she has to go check on mommy and daddy to make sure they’re working.

“She’s known since she was 1 that she owned a restaurant.”

The Wingers operate the diner from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week and stay open until 8 p.m. on Fridays for fish fry dinners. They specialize in a Polish dish called kluski, a homemade noodle.

“I think the only other place you might be able to get them homemade is at the Broadway Market,” Scott Winger said.

Their other most popular dish, according to his wife, is Eggs Benedict.

“We have a good base of regulars, and there is always new people coming in and out,” she said. “Lots of morning people on their way to work, the lunch crowds, and retirees from Rock Oak make up the majority of our weekday business.”

And on the weekends it’s mostly a family affair at Emily’s.

“On Saturdays and Sundays we see a lot of people, lots of families,” Scott Winger said. “It’s definitely a family restaurant.”

Scott Winger says that even though he and his wife are at the diner seven days a week, his favorite part of owning Emily’s is the freedom it provides his family.

“Closing at 2 p.m. gives you a lot of time for family,” he said. “One of us picks our daughter up from school every day, and we don’t really want to change that.

“When we opened, we agreed that we would still have time for family. It wasn’t going to be a restaurant that consumed us.”

The regulars at Emily’s say that’s part of the reason they keep coming back; they like supporting a family business like the one the Wingers operate.

The couple say they know most of their customers by name and that most are even familiar with the business’s five employees, including waitresses and cooks.

“We decided to keep the kitchen open in the back, and you can talk to the person that’s making your food and say hi,” Scott Winger said. “It’s good to know their names.”

Both Wingers come from family businesses, and although they are tickled with the way in which Emily takes ownership of her diner, they look forward to her growing up with options.

“She was asked what she wanted to be when she grows up and she did say that she wanted to be a waitress like her mommy, so maybe,” Jamie Winger said. “But when she gets older she’ll probably change her mind.

“If she wants to go on to college and spread her wings, then be my guest. Its not like she has to go into the family business. “

Until she’s 18, however, she’ll be calling the shots at the diner.

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