Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Member Profile: George Heinemann - Original Mels Diner

Member Profile: George Heinemann
Career Title: District Manager, Original Mels Diner
Member since: 2000
Reno resident since: 2000
Favorite thing about One Nevada: staff, service, products, and locations


Q: Tell us about Original Mels Diner and how long have you’ been there?
A: Mels dates back to 1947 when Mel Weiss opened his first diner located in San Francisco and success seemed to follow him for a long period. I have been in the industry 40 years and I’m coming up on twenty years with Original Mels, but my previous experience was with Marie Callender’s. There I learned from the ground up with Don Callender while attending high school and college. I believe that foundation helped me to be a value to Original Mels as they expanded back in 1994. I opened their second location in Roseville, California with a percentage of stock from the company. I relocated to Reno to open the Sands Casino property and liked it here so much, I stayed. I’m glad to announce that a second location for Reno will be opening soon in the Damonte Ranch area and hopefully keep Mels roaring out of the past and into the future.

Q: How long have you been in the Restaurant industry?
A: I have been in the industry 40 years.

Q: What is the difference between a Diner and a Restaurant and why does it seem there are so many more Diners on the east coast?
A: Diners did crop up back east, and they were a product of the time being in the city before sprawling suburbia began. They were on every other corner and offered people good home style cooking at affordable prices. Out west, you did eventually see the diners, but they were confined to the cities. Diners are taking the big step to populate suburbia now, and I think they’re viewed more as a restaurant with the nostalgia for our experienced customers.

Q: What is your most popular dish at Mels?
A: With out a doubt; burger, fries and a shake.

Q: What is your funniest or most memorable customer story?
A:  The funniest is when a customer is visiting Mels for the first time, they order the Chicken Fried Steak and once they receive it, tell their server “Excuse me, this isn’t Chicken.” Probably the most touching is a married couple who were so happy we opened a location in Reno, since Mels is their favorite place and also where they met some 50 years ago.

Q: Have any celebrities visited Mels or any well-known Nevadans?
A: Mels has played host to many entertainers, bands, singers and actors that were performing or just visiting Reno. To name a few; Alec Baldwin and his brothers, Kelly Clarkson, some of the cast from the movie American Graffiti, almost everyone who goes to Burning Man, famous bowlers, athletes, cowboys, pilots and racing teams.

Q: With a lot of competition in the restaurant industry these days, what do you think keeps Mels successful?
A: We know our market and we don’t try to be something we are not. Moving forward, we test new menu items that we consider to be healthy comfort food, as well as maintaining our service and food standards. We’ve held true to our concept of good food and service with a side of nostalgia.

Q: How do you stand out above other restaurants in the area?
A: Mels is unique, because the many years that have come and gone, we’ve held true to our concept of good food and service with a side of nostalgia.

Q: What’s the most exciting thing or craziest thing that has happened at Mels diner?
A: I often thought I would write book after opening the Reno location in the Sands Casino Hotel. I believe that being a tourist attraction with so many great events, we have people from all walks of life that come and enjoy the Mels experience. Guests are singing and dancing to the music and dressing up in 50’s attire. We haven’t had any babies born in the restaurant yet, but even on slower days, there’s never a dull moment.

Q: How do most of your patron’s find out about Mels?
A: Original Mels theory on advertising has always been the value of our prepared food, service and environment. Since 1947, people have chosen Mels as a place you can visit and feel connected to - a simple, delicious, comforting lifestyle.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: I find setting goals and achieving them with my staff very rewarding, as well as the smile on customers’ faces and great parting comments from guests.

Q: At the credit union, we pride ourselves on five star customer service. What do you look for when hiring servers and what makes a great server?
A: For servers, it’s showtime every shift and some people handle that better than others. Teamwork plays a big part in that. We look for people who are customer service minded, with fun upbeat attitudes and healthy organized work habits.

Q: So what’s your favorite dish on the menu?
A: That’s difficult to answer, but here it goes. Menu items have increased over the years with many items offered, but for Kathy and I, our choice for breakfast is the Vegetarian Omelet with Mels home-style grilled red potatoes. For lunch, we lean towards the Rueben sandwich and Patty Melt with Mels fries. Talking about dinner, we almost always have the Homemade Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and top that off with a Milk shake.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring Diner/Restaurant managers?
A: You’re always striving for consistency in this business and the key, I believe is, to empower your staff through support and training, show them how much they’re appreciated, and listen to your customers and act on their opinions.



Anything else you’d like to share?
Realistically I couldn’t do my job without the support of my lovely wife Kathy and my son Jack. Family is so important, and it’s difficult balancing work and family as everyone knows. That’s the one thing I’m always trying to get better at.

I think all businesses share a similar recipe for quality service and consistency. One Nevada Credit Union rates high because of people like Dana P. who is probably one of the first or second Nevadans I met when moving here 14 years ago. I appreciate the interest and concern she has for family, my business and me. Thanks Dana. Thanks One Nevada Credit Union.

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