During their first year in the restaurant business, Steve and Erica Diethorn of Bethel Park decided to do something special for Thanksgiving.
They invited anyone who otherwise would be alone or have difficulty paying for dinner to Ma & Pop’s Country Kitchen for a meal on the house.
Steve spoke about one gentleman who took them up on the offer and dined at a table in the corner.
“After we got everybody fed for that time frame, I came over and asked him how his food was, and he said it was just wonderful,” Steve recalled. “I sat down and started talking to him, and he said, ‘You know, this is a really great thing you’re doing. I’d be sitting at home eating a grilled cheese or a TV dinner. This is just awesome.’
“Right then, that was when I knew that it was something we had to do on a regular basis.”
And so the Diethorns are extending the same invitation this year, from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 28. Call 412-595-8451, option 2, to make a reservation for a seating time.
The restaurant is at 2840 South Park Road in Bethel Park, and the Diethorns bought it in January 2018 from the owner of what then was Jim and Lou Lou’s, a place where they dined frequently.
One of their early ideas involved thinking ahead for Thanksgiving.
“We started talking about it right away,” Erica said. “So the plan started in January, February, and the more we talked about it we thought, ‘gosh. We can really do this.’”
As the year progressed, they received plenty of support from their restaurant supply vendors and from customers who made contributions to help offset the free meal’s cost.
Throughout Thanksgiving Day, volunteers dropped by to say hello and spend time with the folks who were enjoying dinner. One regular brought his barbershop quartet to sing a few tunes, and two other gentlemen entertained with their guitars.
“It was just amazing and made us realize that’s what God wanted us to do,” Erica said. “We really like to do things for the community, and that’s what makes or breaks you as a person, really.”
Steve agreed: “We definitely like to step up and do things for other people, without expecting anything in return. That’s the big thing.”
Also along philanthropic lines, the Diethorns are members of the Rotary Club of Bethel Park, which meets at 12:15 p.m. Wednesdays except the last week of the month at the South Park Clubhouse, 2200 Brownsville Road.
As for Ma & Pop’s Country Kitchen, it represents Steve and Erica’s first foray into restaurants, at least as owners.
“Steve and I both worked in kitchens,” Erica recalled. “My first job was as a dishwasher at the Holiday Inn when I was in high school.”
When their children were young, Steve used to take them to a small restaurant that used to be on Route 88
“They’d go for breakfast, and he always said, ‘It would be great to have a little diner.’ So it’s something that he kind of always wanted to give a shot at,” Erica explained.
To demonstrate their restaurant’s place as a part of the community, the Diethorns had a contest to come up with a new name, with more than 300 suggestions submitted. The top two turned out to be Ma & Pop’s and Clark’s Country Kitchen, named for a diner that once served employees of the nearby Coverdale Mine.
They were combined, minus the “Clark’s,” and the contest winners received Ma & Pop’s Country Kitchen gift cards.
The former Quiznos sandwich shop is relatively compact in size, providing for a cozy type of atmosphere as servers bustle around refilling coffee cups and serving Steve’s home-style cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“We really want to be a family place, where people are comfortable coming,” Erica said. “I want people to feel like this is a home away from home.”