Dawn Elifrits


-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Dawn Elifrits, of Dayton, third from left, poses with some of her regular customers at the Dayton Community Grocery Store’s restaurant. The group of ladies, are from left, Arlene Rosenquist, Karen Swanson, Elifrits, Lynn Schlief, Rose Linn and Carolyn Huglin. The group is among Elifrits’ many regulars.

DAYTON — The restaurant in the back of the Dayton Community Grocery store is a pretty friendly place to stop in for a meal, a cup of coffee or just some local news.

It’s a one-chef operation run by Dayton resident Dawn Elifrits who’s been making meals and friends there for the past 10 years.

She does it all — the cooking, the waiting, the cashiering, the cleaning and the dishes.

“You name it,” she said cheerfully.

Her customers are her greatest treasure.

“I like what I do, I like my customers,” she said. “It’s like home here. You don’t see many places where the customers take their plates to the sink when it’s busy or get water for someone that just came in.”

The walls of the dining area are covered with signs, art and even origami-style folded one dollar bills, all gifts from her regulars or “crowd” as she likes to call them.

“My crowd is right here,” she said. “I’ve got the best crowd in town. My customers are great.”

Many of her regular customers become friends and she said they often feel more like family.

“They’re friends,” she said. “When you wait on them for 10 years you know what they want.”

And some of them are greatly missed when they’re gone.

Richard “Dick” Chinburg was among those. He died on Dec. 31, 2017. The program from his funeral and a bouquet of flowers are displayed near the register.

“That’s his spot,” she said, pointing to the flowers. “We really miss him. He was here every day for breakfast and lunch. He was my go to guy.”

On the rare occasion when a grumpy customer comes in, she tries to make sure they don’t leave in that condition.

“We get them laughing before they leave,” she said.

She also serves as an ambassador for Dayton. Visitors to the community encounter a friendly place and a warm welcome.

“We have some people here from Boston,” she said. “I call them my Boston crew. They were in today.”

Every day at the restaurant features a different lunch special.

“Wednesday is something with pork, Thursday is something with beef, Friday is always two-piece fish day,” she said. “It’s my easy day.”

On Friday, she has other tasks; she delivers grocery orders. Each weekday also finds herself delivering meals to the independent living apartments at the care center.

The diner is closed on Saturday and Sunday.

“I take a couple of days to recoup.” she said.

Of course, when a group of regular customers who’ve known each other for years gather in a small town diner, they’re going to have conversations about local events.

Some would call that gossiping. That term, according to a sign on the wall, is not allowed.

“We’re not gossiping,” it reads. “We’re networking.”

A grumpy attitude can also get you a surcharge.

“Prices subject to change according to attitude,” another sign reads.

Elifrits, who’s 61, is getting ready to hang up her apron.

“I’m going to retire soon,” she said.

She does have some advice for the person who takes over.

“Get to know the people,” she said. “They’re great, my people are great. Smile, be nice, give them what they want.”