‘Kindness spreads’: Broadway Diner dishes up meals for kids, sees outpouring of support

When the pandemic hit in March, Broadway Diner owner David Johnson was worried about how kids who depend on school breakfast and lunches would get something to eat.

He had extra products that he didn’t want to go to waste, so he offered to feed any kid who could get to his diner on 4th Street in downtown Columbia. Most days, he gives 30 free meals to kids. He calls this the KIND program, which stands for Kids In Need Diner.

Broadway Diner is being honored with one of the inaugural Kindness in Business awards in the Kindness to Youth category. The awards recognize businesses and organizations that have shown and promoted kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the Kindness in Business awards and meet the honorees.

Broadway diner became what it is today when Johnson’s family bought the building in 1989. It specializes in quick breakfast and lunch. At its peak, the diner employed 10 full-time employees and a handful of part-time workers. But the pandemic has greatly decreased the number of people working most days to one, and there are only three employees.

Johnson spoke with Missouri Business Alert about Broadway Diner and its response to the pandemic. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: How does Broadway Diner try to embody kindness?

David Johnson: We really believe in community. And not only meeting the needs, but just listening to folks. I’m enthralled every chance I get to meet my customers, either in here or outside. But the diversity that we see here is phenomenal to everybody. And the talent and the extraordinary things that everybody does, just fills my heart and makes me happy and makes me want to share.

MBA: What inspired you to start this program?

DJ: I try to live by my faith every day. And I just have an overwhelming conviction to do that. We’re certainly not making money doing this. We’re getting a lot of attention and spreading goodwill. But I think when COVID hit, all norms of the business world changed, and we’re just trying to do our part to make sure everybody, and I mean everybody, can get through this pandemic together.

MBA: What lessons has Broadway Diner learned as a result of the pandemic?

DJ: Unfortunately, there have been a few times where I’ve been shocked at the rare occasion I’ve seen grief. But usually, I am always surprised at the generosity of folks. One of the first people that donated cash to the KIND program was a 12-year-old boy who brought his birthday money from his grandma and donated it. Folks will bring me their stimulus checks. Other folks just come in and pay it forward and say, “I’ve got the next couple tickets.” Kindness spreads.

MBA: What’s been a highlight of the past several months?

DJ: We had a very tiny little bit of vandalism, right when we set up our patio. And then it seems like right after that we had a fire. Many had already been supporting us and the KIND program. But the way the community pulled together and lifted us up and supported us, the kids didn’t even miss any meals. The fire department stepped in and cooked meals for us, brought them down here and we handed them out. It’s just phenomenal, this town. And I know that’s not just Columbia; I know that this happens everywhere. But there’s really something special about this town.

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