When Kathy and Mike Diemer opened Johnny B Good’s Diner in February, 1994, they wanted to create “that feeling that people care about you and want to see you happily enjoying your time with us.” In the 25+ years since opening, Johnny B Good’s has become more than an iconic landmark in downtown Steamboat or must-visit place for tourists coming through town. For locals, Johnny B Good’s is a home away from home, a place where, like the old Cheers sitcom, “everybody knows your name.” For decades, Johnny B Good’s has been a safe haven for youth to come and share their lives – successes and challenges – in a safe, supportive environment. They have given out literally thousands of “free shake” cards to anyone who asks for fundraisers all over the valley, and have opened their hearts and doors to anyone needing help. The conversations over the bar are, at times, more like therapy sessions. If the meaning of philanthropy is “love of humanity,” through the decades, good times and bad, and especially through the past year, Johnny B Good’s and the Diemer’s embody that sentiment. That is why they are being honored as the 2021 Business Philanthropist of the Year.
“Our motivation is to be a part of helping Steamboat retain those small-town roots that we love about this community.” Kathy Diemer shares. “We have a strong faith and we believe that we are here to help others and there is value in being there as a human for other humans when they are in need. That philosophy has guided what we have done. Getting through the shutdown, fear and unknown of COVID last year was tough, but we’ve been through many other challenges including the recession and 9/11, which were also defining moments for our business.” Through those defining moments, Johnny B Good’s has tirelessly supported community members in need.
“It’s not about us,” says Mike Diemer. “It’s about making sure our staff are happy, creating family, providing for our community. We look out for each other and because we care about everybody that works here and in keeping that atmosphere. It’s very easy to care about the community because our business is our community.”
The crisis of September 11 was certainly a time of despair in our country and our community, and last year during COVID, there was a similar feeling. People came into the restaurant in desperation and needed a safe place. The Diemer’s felt that it was, once again, their time to step up and be there for anyone who needed it. Not only did they keep as much of their staff working throughout the pandemic as possible, they immediately shifted their model, offering service through what was previously the ice cream window.
As Mike shares, “This community jumped in at the beginning of the shut down and people were doing generally ok. But after the summer and when things got shut down again, we started hearing more stories of desperation. You could almost feel a change in the air. Stimulus was running out, unemployment was running out, and people didn’t have any safety nets.” Without hesitation, they began offering free lunch to anyone who needed it. They continued this throughout the shut-down and until they saw people getting back on their feet. When they saw someone in need, they never turned their back.
“It was simple enough for us to put together soup, breads, grilled cheese and other sandwiches to give away meals to anyone who needed one,” says Kathy. “When you start to give and experience generosity to others, you start to see the impact and it just becomes part of you and something you need to do.”
Often times, here in our ‘Steamboat bubble’ we don’t see the desperation that actually exists in our community. The pandemic shined a light on that and brought it out of the shadows. It was heartbreaking for Kathy and Mike to see so many people struggling, but on the other side of that heartbreak was hope and inspiration and gratitude for the ability to do something to help, and to witness the generosity that came pouring out of the community. It was not uncommon for complete strangers to come up to the window and drop off an envelope with money to help support their business, their employees and their efforts to offer free meals.
“We needed to give whatever we could because there is such a ripple effect and giving comes back to you.”
The principles of giving of themselves, being more selfless, giving to others – the pandemic brought out these principles throughout the community. “We can’t emphasize enough the outpouring of generosity that we witnessed during the pandemic. This community really wanted to take care of each other.”
In addition to their efforts in supporting so many community members through challenging times, Johnny B Good’s and the Diemer’s are also very active in several community organizations year-round.
Every year they participate in 9-11 Memorial event at the Yampa River Botanic Park, they feed veterans for free on Veterans Day, and offer local first responders free food or shakes on a gift card at the restaurant that is funded by the Diemer’s or other private donations. Some of their favorite memories are of having the entire fire department enjoying milkshakes in the restaurant on a hot summer day.
They partner with the anti-bullying and suicide prevention program It Takes Courage, making presentations to the middle school every year. They offer the diner as a safe place for students who are struggling to come talk and know that someone cares. They have had more than a few students take them up on the offer.
“Being able to help the kids is what makes us the most proud,” shares Kathy. “The Yampa Valley is a great place to raise kids, but a hard place to raise kids. We are proud to support many organizations including SSWSC, Boys and Girls Club, Integrated Community, It Takes Courage and any other organizations that support our local youth. To be able to be part of the community at the grassroots level and help kids get through day to day struggles is very fulfilling.”
The Diemer’s are experts at cultivating a sense of community, one relationship at a time. “To give of yourself, that inspires people to pass it on and do that for someone else. Because we care, we spread that and people know that we are all in this together. It keeps everyone caring about each other.”