Downtown Diner opens in Historic Downtown Kennewick

After a short stint as Thai eatery, followed by a Mexican restaurant, the former O’Henry’s in Historic Downtown Kennewick is once again a diner. The Downtown Diner opened April 8 at 20 S. Auburn St., Kennewick.

Three partners, Amber Woods, Rodrick Gladney and Robert VanSlycke, all of Kennewick, own the diner.

The menu is packed with traditional American diner fare: pancakes, eggs and sausage for breakfast; burgers, sandwiches and salads for lunch and dinner.

But it’s also sprinkled with some mouth-watering Southern classics, including shrimp and grits, chicken fried steak and chicken and waffles. Po boy sandwiches, fried catfish and gumbo are on the lunch/dinner menu along with Gladney’s special boudin balls.

“Boudin balls are a chunk of cheese wrapped with pork sausage, breaded and fried,” said Gladney, whose rich deep Southern accent, lends authenticity.

Appetizers and desserts also have a Southern flair. Whet your appetite with fried dill pickles, fried green tomatoes and fried corn on the cob, which is dipped in corn dog batter before being dropped into the fryer.

Woods bakes fresh pies and cobbler every day, or if you sweet tooth is more adventurous, splurge on a deep fried Oreo or Twinkie.

Menu items generally run from $7 to $12.

“We became business partners because we all have the same passion for food. We all have certain foods, certain recipes we’ve contributed to the menu,” Woods said.

The gumbo, dirty rice, mac and cheese are all made from scratch. So are the po boys and other sandwiches, the fried green tomatoes and even the salads.

‘The only frozen foods we use are the waffle fries,” Gladney said.

Woods said the extra five to seven minutes it takes to make their food from scratch is worth the boost in flavor and quality.

Gladney is originally from Jackson, Miss., where his family has owned a variety of restaurants, clubs and a grocery store.

“I’ve never been a cook but I grew up working in the family businesses. I love food. I love eating it — I love talking about it,” Gladney said.

Gladney picked up his Southern roots and planted them in the Tri-Cities just over a year ago when the Tri-Cities Fever football team recruited him as an offensive lineman.

Together, Woods and VanSlycke have more than 22 years experience in the restaurant business. VanSlycke is from Texas, while Woods calls Moses Lake home.

“I tell everyone I’m from southern Washington,” she joked.

Woods and VanSlycke met while working at Mai House restaurant in Kennewick.

“We weren’t happy there and talked about opening our own place,” Woods said.

They stopped talking and began doing when VanSlycke showed up one morning at 8 a.m. with a business plan several months ago.

That’s when the three friends began hunting for a restaurant location in earnest.

“We knew we wanted a diner and when we walked through the door and I saw these black and white tiles on the floor — they just screamed diner,” Woods said.

The quaint, shaded patio cinched the deal. That’s where the trio’s Traeger smoker sits. It’s used to smoke a variety of meats served at the diner including ribs and sausages.

Anyone familiar with the former O’Henry’s will notice there’s been some remodeling.

Woods, Gladney and VanSlycke shortened the kitchen area in the dining room, expanding their prep space back into an unused room off the kitchen. They’ve also added a full — if tiny — bar.

“Sundays we feature special Bloody Marys,” Gladney said.

As the trio worked to remodel the Downtown Diner, people regularly dropped by to check out their work.

“I began talking to people, learning the history of the building and about Henry Belair,” Woods said. “I fell in love with the building and the more I’ve learned, the more determined I’ve become to not mow over Henry and sweep him under the rug. That’s why I’ve incorporated him and some of his things into the décor of the diner.”

The Downtown Diner can seat 49 people inside and another 50 on the patio. It has about 10 employees. All menu items are available for take out.

The hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information call 509-579-0501 or find them on Facebook.

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