The Band Box Diner’s grill was ailing, and so too were the chances the historic diner would stay open.
But by Wednesday, the vintage 1930s Minneapolis burger and omelet joint was saved after last-minute fundraising efforts.
“I’ve been limping this thing along for a long time, and I never dreamed this would happen,” owner and cook Brad Ptacek said.
For weeks, Ptacek and the other cooks have been flipping their grease-infused classics on a faulty grill. Three of its four burners gave out last week, giving the staff and customers little hope of it being repaired or the diner’s doors staying open.
“People [heard the news and] were coming in to get the last taste of it,” said Bailey Jimenez, Ptacek’s daughter and employee. “We didn’t really have any other option.”
The outpouring gave Jimenez an idea. In a last-ditch effort Friday, she started an online and in-person fundraising appeal.
The effort caught fire on social media and in the neighborhood, and by Wednesday morning, the effort surpassed $5,000 — the price of a new commercial grill. Some of the donations were as little as $5.
Online fundraising and investment pleas are not new. Fledgling bands use it to finance new albums, microbrews have used it to start new ventures and friends have used it to raise money for loved ones stricken by ailments. But this appears to be the first time a local restaurant used it to buy a new grill.
On Wednesday, hamburger patties and buns crowded the small, working portion of the 1985 Vulcan grill, sizzling loud over psychedelic-rock tunes and lunchtime chatter. The diner sits in Elliot Park, a neighborhood wedged into the southern edge of downtown Minneapolis and in the shadow of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
Ptacek and his staff talked about the replacement grill on its way and apologized to customers, ranging from students to Bible college employees, for the long wait times.
But server Jimenez hustled every minute of the lunch hour, attending to patrons who mostly seemed patient and understanding.
One of the customers who didn’t seem to mind the wait was Minneapolis resident Paul Klaverkamp, who has been ordering patty melts for a decade.
“It’s a great, old, greasy spot,” he said. “[I] came to help save the place.”
Ptacek took over the diner in 1998. Throughout the years, its novelty items — like the “sloppy bro” and “monster omelet” — have emerged as top sellers.
Ptacek’s girlfriend, Heather Dalzen, is a server, too. They are occasionally joined by their 2-year-old son, Laughlin Ptacek, who watches from a quaint corner table in the 16-seat diner.
“My whole life is here,” Jimenez said.
The Elliot Park location is the last of 14 diners that were once managed by Bert and Harry Weisman in the 1930s. It is the oldest diner in the neighborhood and was designated a historic landmark by the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission in 2000. The original white-and-red facade has endured for decades.
Eric Schliesing popped in and shook the cook’s hand over Wednesday’s lunch hour — swapping $40 cash and a congratulatory glance in the process.
“Having everyone reach and donate kind of … made [us] realize what a staple we are in the community,” Jimenez said.