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Heartland Diner changes hands

Merv and Gloria Lemmon have sold the Heartland Diner to Sal and Esmeralda Padilla, who are transitioning it into a Tex-Mex diner. Pictured from left are the Padillas' daughter, Alma Padilla; Esmeralda Padilla; Sal Padilla; Merv Lemmon; and Gloria Lemmon. 

BRITT | The Heartland Diner has new owners who plan to transition it to a Tex-Mex restaurant. 

But Sal and Esmeralda Padilla are continuing to serve the favorites the regulars at the diner have enjoyed over the past eight years, such as broasted chicken, as they gradually add Tex-Mex dishes. 

“We are trying to do it (the transition) slowly” because customers are used to the Heartland Diner menu, Esmeralda said.

The restaurant will even have the same name for a few more months before it switches to Sal's Tex-Mex Diner. 

The Padillas, who live in Britt, enjoy cooking for their family, which is large on both Sal's and Esmeralda's sides. 

Sal, who cooked at fast food places when he was younger, said opening his own restaurant "is something I've always wanted to do." 

When the Padillas heard Merv and Gloria Lemmon, who opened Heartland Diner in April 2010, wanted to sell the business and retire, "we saw the opportunity and we moved on it," Sal said. 

The Lemmons trained the Padillas for several weeks before they took over so they could learn the Heartland Diner recipes. 

The Padillas signed the purchase agreement  on Dec. 14. Their first day operating the diner on their own was Dec. 17. 

For now the Padillas are keeping the hours for the diner the same as before: 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. They hope to expand the evening hours, possibly until 10 p.m.

The first Tex-Mex item added to the menu was breakfast burritos with homemade flour tortillas.

The breakfast burritos are available to go for those who are on their way to work and don’t have time to dine in.

The take-out option also will be available for regular burritos when they are added to the lunch menu.

The Padillas also plan to add Tex-Mex platters to the breakfast menu. Esmeralda said they resemble the Heartland Diner breakfast platters, except there’s “a bit more spice to it.”

In the spring the Padillas will start grilling chicken, ribs and sausage. They might even add brisket.

They plan to begin serving Sno-cones this summer.

The Padillas don’t have any immediate plans to remodel because the Lemmons recently installed new carpet and painted the walls.

Esmeralda said the regular customers were sad at first when they heard the Lemmons were planning to retire because they were afraid the diner would close. 

However, when they learned someone would be taking it over, they were excited, she said. 

The Lemmons also are happy they found someone to keep the diner going.

“We were looking for someone who had the passion for cooking and the restaurant, and we found them,” Gloria said.

She said she appreciates the loyalty of the customers “who gave us a lot of support over the years.”

“We hope they will give the same support to the new people,” Merv said.

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