Family Diner in Fergus Falls is celebrating its ninth year in business this month, a unique diner in the community known for its from-scratch cooking and family focus. The diner was opened in December 2010 by Sharla Bilden, who had worked at restaurants throughout the area for years and decided to try her hand at opening her own.
“I had worked in restaurants kind of all my life, really, I worked at Dakota Magic Casino, I own my own little business, a little gas station, grocery store and bar all-in-one in Tintah, and then I worked at Ponderosa in Fergus Falls, too,” she says. “I kind of did that all my life, work in restaurants, and I thought, ‘Well, I’d like to try my own again,’ in a little bigger town like Fergus Falls — Tintah, you know, is just a small little town. So I thought I would try it and then I opened the diner.”
The diner is located at 2509 Cenex Drive just off West Lincoln Avenue. They serve breakfast all day as well as burgers, sandwiches, hot beef, fish and a variety of desserts (caramel rolls and a rotating selection of bars and cookies). “All of our food is homemade, we have good homemade desserts, our mashed potatoes are homemade, we’ve tried to make everything from scratch as much as we can, so it’s more like home-cooked food,” says Bilden, and it’s been a founding principle since she started the diner, evidenced by the 2011 Agri News article about Family Diner that she has hung up on the diner’s wall.
Despite almost a decade of service, Bilden says, “I don’t know if a lot has changed.” She doesn’t have social-media pages for the diner, saying, “I don’t do much on the internet, I should but I don’t, I’m kind of old fashioned,” although she advertises on the radio and occasionally in the paper.
There have been a few changes, like some remodeling, new coats of paint and new decor (in keeping with the theme of family and home, much of the decor is reminiscent of a typical Midwestern house). She also notes that the economy has gotten difficult lately and impacted the community and how much competition there is. She’s hopeful for the future but is cautious of looking too far out: “I kind of go day by day. It’s been a struggle throughout the years. Starting now in 2020, in January, I’m only going to be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. because we have not had enough evening customers to make it worthwhile to stay open, so I’m going to cut back the hours and hopefully maybe that way I can stay open many more years.”
She remains hopeful, and is truly grateful to her customers and employees who she believes are the best part of Family Diner. Looking back over the last nine years, she has many treasured memories with her regular, loyal customers. “It’s been really interesting to remember all my customers and of course we’ve lost a lot of them, they’ve passed away throughout the years, and certain times of the year bring back memories of them, which can make me sad, but it’s a good memory, too, remembering all those people that have come and gone,” she says.
She hopes to meet more new people in the years to come and develop lasting relationships with a new generation of regulars. “We’d sure like to invite everyone to come and try us out if they haven’t been there yet,” she says.