SOUTH YARMOUTH — On a dreary, wet Christmas day, when most shops and businesses had closed for the holiday, it was business as usual at the Route 28 diner, which stayed dry, cozy and bustling as staff served traditional breakfasts, Christmas specials, and “the best coffee on the Cape” as one customer described it.
Owner Tom Nickinello said that staying open during the holidays “just makes sense.”
“We haven’t met one person that doesn’t eat on a daily basis, so somebody has to offer up some food, and if it wasn’t us, it would be somebody else, right?”
Route 28 Diner is a small, retro-themed restaurant. The inside is mostly red, and there is a long white counter that divides the diner into two halves. The diner serves traditional American breakfast, sandwiches, and salads, all at a reasonable price. Unlike many other restaurants, the diner stays open on holidays including Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas.
Nickinello said that when his family took over the diner in 2010, they decided to stay open during the holidays to give back to the community and give people an option for food when there weren’t many places open.
Nickinello has taken a backseat and allowed his children Tom and Toni to handle things like food preparation and meal ideas. On Christmas day, Toni and Tom could be seen hustling in the kitchen whipping up meals for patrons.
Kathy Smith and Gary Christiansen, who came into the diner around noon on Christmas Day, said that they normally like to cook prime rib on Christmas but couldn’t find any in the store.
Christiansen said that he thinks the meat wasn’t available due to shortages caused by the pandemic. They ordered the Christmas Dinner, which was Orange Cranberry Roasted Pork Loin, and a bowl of split-pea soup.
Although they had no travel plans that were affected by COVID, Smith said that she hasn’t been able to travel to see her grandchild, whom she likes to visit every three months.
Another family chose to come to the diner because, they said, they are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who don’t celebrate Christmas.
Dale Cook said that the food is excellent, and the diner is dependable.
“It’s like a guarantee, it’s one of the places you can always go,” said Cook.
Cook enjoys the diner’s pancakes.
Another couple of customers had just finished delivering Christmas meals for St. Pius X Parish and thought they would stop in to grab a bite on their way home.
Christine Lovico said that she and her step-mother Janyce had been coming to the diner for 20 years, and that it was one of the few places she felt comfortable eating during the pandemic.
“It was one of the places we trusted, they’re really good about their care of people, the area, of making sure everyone is safe, it feels safe to be here,” said Christine.
Janyce Lovico said that one of the reasons she likes the diner is that it’s small and homey, and that the staff really gets to know you.
However, the size of the diner proved to be a challenge during the pandemic, said Nickinello.
People weren’t comfortable eating in small spaces for fear of the virus, and the diner had to change the way it does business, opening an outdoor patio and relying on takeout orders, Nickinello said. Some days, the diner remained closed as there was no business.
But even as other businesses closed down, Route 28 Diner in Yarmouth survived and was able to stay open, even on one of the biggest holidays in the country.
Nickinello said customers were grateful they had a place to eat whether that be because they’re by themselves, they can’t or don’t like to cook, or their families are away. He said that because Cape Cod is a transient area, people are often coming and going.
“It kind of gives you a good warm fuzzy feeling, I mean that’s what we’re all about, is helping each other, right?” said Nickinello.