Vilson and Albana Boci want to be the last owners of the restaurant at the corner of South Main and West Washington streets in Caseyville.
Since 2013, it has changed names three times and has gone from a rundown place to a Cinderella TV makeover only to close less than a year after the transition. Another owner lasted until November 2014. Finally, the owners of an Edwardsville restaurant took over and coined the name South Main Diner. But they found they were too busy to do it justice.
“We knew the previous owners,” said Vilson, who has been managing restaurants in St. Louis for a dozen years. He’s a former civil engineer. “They made the transition easy — and I trust them.”
Reopened in September under the same name, it’s the first restaurant they will run themselves. They’re appreciative of the welcome from the community and are working hard to overcome a shaky reputation that still clings to the business.
Open at 5 a.m. daily, the diner serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day. Vilson, 48, helps out cooking in the kitchen. Albana now is the dessert maker, tempting customers with tiramisu, baklava, cake and a tasty layered pudding concoction called Zuppa Inglese.
“I like to cook and here I am!” said Albana, 45, and the mother of three at home. The couple lives in St. Louis. Both emigrated from Albania in the 1990s.
Vilson said it was his wife’s undercover work that made them decide to buy the business.
Albana visited the restaurant as a customer to see how it was run and was impressed. She reported back to her husband and together they took the plunge.
We wanted a place where customers would feel welcome and comfortable.
Vilson Boci on the Main Street Diner
“We wanted a place where customers would feel welcome and comfortable,” said Vilson. The couple offers homemade food, made to order and using local produce whenever possible.
On the takeout menu is this partial phrase: “If inexpensive comfort food is what you crave, you are at the right place.”
It’s a little early to tell what the most popular dishes are, but “breakfast is big,” said Vilson, noting that the French toast has gone over well. The French Toast Special, two slices, two eggs and bacon, sausage or ham is $6.49. Other breakfast items range from New York strip steak and eggs (with hash browns, toast or biscuit, $9.99) and omelettes to waffles, pancakes and skillets.
Johnny and Helga Solich, of Caseyville, stopped in after walking their dogs on Tuesday. The couple said they had enjoyed previous meals under the new owners.
“I had the (hamburger) steak and eggs,” said Helga, pointing at the doggy bag her husband held. “I couldn’t eat it all, so they’ll be leftovers.” They won’t be shared with the pets, though, she added.
Customers like Vilson’s hand-patted burgers. The half-pound burger is topped with grilled peppers, mushrooms, onions and cheese with a side for $8.99. For smaller appetites, a gyro on pita bread and a side is $7.99. You’ll also find club sandwiches, wraps and classic open-faced sandwiches, such as hot sliced turkey served on two slices of homemade bread with country gravy, mashed potatoes and soup or a salad for $7.99.
Lighter fare includes five meal-size salads, such as the Greek Salad ($7.99) with lettuce, tomato, green peppers, cucumbers, onions, feta cheese, olives, boiled egg and homemade oregano dressing.
Dinners, from popular fried chicken ($7.99 and up) to fried whole catfish ($8.99), are served with choice of potato, vegetable and soup or salad. There’s also a senior dinner menu for those over 55.
“We also have daily all-you-can eat (lunch) specials with three sides,” said Albana. Cost: $8.99.
The couple haven’t felt the need to redo any dining room decor that was redone for the 2013 TV makeover. South Main Diner feels cozy and comfortable with pale blue and green walls, wide-plank faux wood floors and windows displaying a new logo created courtesy of a customer, Richard Turner.
They are working on a Facebook page and a website. As well, they hope to attract customers who are traveling on nearby Interstate 64 and looking for a home-cooked meal. And, if you need a meeting or party room, the Bocis can accommodate 20 to 25 in a back room. The attached big outdoor deck will get a makeover before next spring, said Albana.
South Main Diner
- Serves: Breakfast, lunch and dinner all day; carryouts available. Meeting/party room.
- Where: 421 S. Main St. (Illinois 157), Caseyville
- Hours: 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
- Handicapped accessible: Yes
- Information: 618-344-4005 and on Facebook