Escondido, CA

Diner owner tries to keep head above water

Suzanne Iseminger of Suzy Q’s Diner is struggling to keep her restaurant alive in the face of the second COVID lockdown. But she’s not giving up! Photos by David Zumaya of My San Diego North County

Restaurant owner Suzanne Iseminger is trying to obey the rules and stay in business during the time of COVID. It is not easy to survive as a business buffeted by pandemic restrictions, but she says, “This is my passion. This is what I do.”

Times-Advocate media partner David Zumaya of My San Diego North County this week interviewed Iseminger, owner of Suzy Q’s Diner, which is located at 258 E. 2nd Ave. (corner of Juniper & 2nd) in Escondido.

She was recently featured on KUSI News, which caused a welling up of sympathy and support for the diner.  “I want to thank everyone for coming and supporting me,” she told Zumaya. “People called on the phone, people not from the area. I was crying when I watched it. I’m been on my own since I’ve been 18 and raised two lovely girls and never had any help. I’ve always tried to do what I can. I’ve never seen such love and support. Old town people are really rare, they know how people struggle. My main  goal was to put us on the map so I can stay open.”

She is grateful that her friend Matt Weatherby, “Matt the Jelly Man,” of Escondido’s Jelly Bear Jelly Company, called a friend, the KUSI reporter, who did the interview. 

“As soon as she stopped interviewing me I started to get phone calls!” she said. “Phones were just ringing off the hook.” Which created its own problems: keeping up with orders when she had let her staff go.

The January 12 KUSI interview by Allie Wagner described how “[Iseminger] is already behind on her rent, and is currently making just $100 per day, up to $400 on the weekends. This is not enough business to make ends meet, and Iseminger is asking the public to support her diner, and other businesses like hers.”

She set up a Go Fund Me Page called “Help save Suzy Q’s Diner from closing.” She wrote there: “I have been hanging on by a thread to try to stay open and have exhausted most of my savings. We were getting halfway there but this latest shutdown is very devastating to my diner. All my hard work, sacrifices, and dreams will be gone if I can’t get enough funds to keep me open. I have poured my heart and soul into this one of a kind diner in Escondido. Staying open on all holidays and working 14 hours days for the first four years.”

Iseminger has been in the restaurant business for more than 40 years. Before owning her own diner, she worked at so many restaurants in Alpine, Pine Valley and Mission Valley, Santa Barbara, Temecula one might easily lose track of them. She was also in the catering business. 

Suzy Q’s has been open six years in December. She was a single mom at 20, went on her own and raised them two daughters “to be great adults.” Her oldest, Angela, helps with the restaurant. Because of COVID, she had to let everybody else go. 

The restaurant, once known as the “Metaphor Café” “fell into my lap,” she said. “It was thriving. We were really busy. Come March 2020, it was bad enough. So when we reopened, it took us two weeks to get back on track. This second closure is devastating, devastating.”

The goal of the Go Fund Me page is to raise $30,000. It will help her catch up on rent. “How can I pay that when I’m only putting away $100 a day, $400 on weekends?” she asked. She was able to get one of the first COVID federal grants and has applied for the second.

Iseminger loves her customers. She told Zumaya: “This is my passion. This is what I do. I’m really overwhelmed by the response.” She pleaded, “Please don’t give up on me! The challenge is finances and getting customers. People don’t know we’re here. We have people who have lived here for twenty years who don’t know we’re here.” She doesn’t have funds to pay someone to paint a mural on the back of her restaurant, as some of the others on that block have done.

Customers love her signature dishes, like the “French Popper,”  a French toast made from cinnamon bread from a bakery in Palm Springs. She specializes in omelets like the “Suzy Q’ Signature” with four eggs, green chiles, jalapenos, tomatoes, sausage, bacon, peppers topped with chili, sour cream, salsa and pepper jack cheese.” Whoa!

One of Suzy Q’s signature breakfasts. All the menu items are available as pick-up orders. Photos by David Zumaya of My San Diego North County

A customer favorite, she told Zumaya is Jalapeño Hash browns. “It’s mixed with special spices and two kinds of cheeses and shredded potatoes, grilled with Parmesan cheese on the side,” she said. “It’s not too hot. It took a while to perfect because I have to count the number of jalapeños.” Her chicken fried steaks are also a favorite, as well as the hand dipped ice cream and malts, made with real malt.

She serves breakfasts until 2 p.m. She added, “We also have meals to go and I do catering.”

She lives right up the street from the diner, two minutes away. “It’s  a family business. We had nine employees at one time,” she said.

If the Go Fund Me Page helps erase past liabilities, she plans to stay open as long as she can. “Once the restrictions are lifted, I hope to be open fifty percent,” she said. “I’m doing everything I can to follow all procedures. We were following all the sanitary protocols. I have a lot of older clients, so I’m careful. What hurt me is that you have other businesses not complying. They are putting everyone in jeopardy. I want people to come here. We use plastic and paper. To-go packaging is expensive.”

She added, “I don’t use vendors. I pay everything as I go. That’s how I survive because I don’t owe anyone anything.”

To make a take-out order at Suzy Q’s, call 442-999-5178. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. serving breakfast and lunch! Call ahead to preorder your Cinnamon Rolls. They cost $5.99 each.

Suzy Q’s Diner is known for its retro look from the 1950s and 60s. Currently it’s only open for take-out. Photos by David Zumaya of My San Diego North County

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