Customers band together to plan fundraiser for popular Island restaurant
By Jill Keppeler
It's the small white diner at 1849 Grand Island Blvd., the one with the lighthouse out front.
But McMahon's Family Restaurant is more than that. It's an icon and a meeting place to local residents, and a way of life for the McMahon family.
Now, some of their longtime customers are banding together to extend a helping hand through a fundraiser intended to help get the little restaurant - and the family that owns it - past a rough patch.
Event coordinator Judi Dinsmore said the fundraiser will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 29 at the restaurant. It will include music, a bounce house, vendors, basket raffles, a "wheelbarrow of cheer" raffle and food. Tickets are $15 in advance and will be $20 at the door. (Children younger than 10 will be admitted free.)
Dinsmore said her father used to go to McMahon's regularly, and she got to know the family through their mutual involvement in the Miracle League of Grand Island and Western New York.
"We're not trying to make them a million dollars," she said. "We're just trying to get them out of the hole so they don't lose the diner. If the diner goes, that's the family business.
"It's hard to swallow, when you're on your own two feet for so long. What we're trying to do is just help them a little bit."
During a recent morning at McMahon's, families and individuals polished off plates of pancakes and sipped coffee as Carli-jo McMahon delivered plates from the kitchen. Family matriarch Fran McMahon, who owns the business with her husband, Joe, sat down with a sigh and looked around.
"It has been a rough season," she said. "I know it happens to everyone, and that's why I have a rough time with this.
"I'm so humbled by this."
McMahon's is small, but bright. Paintings, photographs and a tribute to servicemen decorate the walls, and a collection of lighthouses of all shapes and sizes is on display. The menu ranges from breakfast items to dinner specials, with creative pancake varieties (such as cinnamon roll or raspberry white chocolate chip) and omelet variations each Sunday.
The McMahons purchased the restaurant 13 years ago, in part so some of their children, who have health issues and disabilities, would have a place to work. The family also has a catering business.
Carli-jo "runs the place" and serves as head waitress, Fran McMahon said, while Stephen, who has a photographic memory, works the cash register and Timmy is "my all-around guy." Stephanie helps cook and do other tasks.
Kimberly McMahon, who serves as the executive director at the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, also helps out at the restaurant when she can, Fran McMahon said.
"I have good kids and that's what's pulled us through," she said.
However, a brutal winter combined with family illness and injury took a large toll on the business. While summer has helped it rebound, times are still rough.
"If we get another winter like that ... it was crazy," Fran McMahon said. "I don't mind snow. I don't mind ice. But older people come in this restaurant. They won't go out (in bad weather). They won't go out at all."
Still, she said, many customers are very faithful. "It's been here 63 years. It's a landmark. I've had men who've come in here for their whole lives. That's the thing about my customers; they're very good."
One table at McMahon's is emblazoned with about a dozen men's names, regulars at the restaurant who've been going there for decades. Among them is "Tommy," for Tommy Norman - whom Fran McMahon said has helped out by sitting with her children at the restaurant on the mornings she couldn't be there.
This morning, however, his wife, Lorrie Norman, was sitting at the table for a late breakfast with family members.
"It's a very good place," she said. "The owners are wonderful. We enjoy talking to their children."
Her daughter, Becky DeLisle, said her children, Olivia, 5, and Jack and Blake, 2, ask to go to McMahon's.
"We love coming in," she said. "The service is great; the food is great. They're wonderful people."
Dinsmore echoed her words. Fran McMahon, she said, just keeps helping other people, even while in straits of her own.
"Frannie has helped most of the people we've talked to, in one way or another," Dinsmore said. "She's just one of those kinds of people.
"They're just such great people. They give new meaning to the words 'hardy hearts.' "
The fundraiser is still in need of vendors, baskets for the basket raffle or bottles of alcohol for the "wheelbarrow of cheer" raffle. The deadline is Aug. 28. Monetary donations (which have no deadline) are also gratefully accepted, Dinsmore said. Those who wish to donate should call her at 716-523-1071.
Tickets to the fundraiser can be purchased at the restaurant, Mallwitz's Island Lanes at 1887 Whitehaven Road or from Dinsmore.