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Owner of Northern California Diner Packs a Lot of Weight

Charles Hillinger's America

February 10, 1988|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

EUREKA, Calif. — The sign is a disgrace and the paint's fading. The springs in the booths are sprung and the place lacks glamour. Even the food is ordinary, the owner claims.

So what's all the fuss about Joy's Diner, a 22-seat eatery in this Northern California seaport?

"Look around. None of us is skinny," replied PG&E lineman John Branham, 49. "Joy's added a lot of weight to this town."

Indeed, Joy's is renowned for heaping portions of down-home cooking, one example being Joy's Grey Poupon Swiss Pastrami Burger--a toasted bun smothered with mustard, pastrami, melted Swiss cheese, grilled onions and a quarter-pound hamburger patty, dill pickle, tomato and lettuce.

"I eat the mistakes. That's why I'm so fat," said owner-operator Joy Moseby, who stands 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 275 pounds. "When I burn the toast and break an egg, I don't toss it away. It's my in-between-meals snack."

The tiny eatery at Wabash and B streets is open for breakfast and lunch five days a week. When customers petitioned Moseby to keep the diner open all week, she reacted with one of her popular advertisements:

"We don't intend to become a slave to fame and fortune and work seven days. NO WAY! Joy's heading for the big 'six-two' and she wants to stay alive to draw her Social Security."

In fact, Moseby's regular Thursday ad in the Eureka Times-Standard is one of the newspaper's best-read items, and it's earned her a reputation among townspeople as the Erma Bombeck of the diner.

"Joy never boasts about how good her food is or lists the featured item on her menu like the other restaurants do," explained Pat Bones, 57, a regular customer who works as a waitress in another part of town.

"She writes about human, real-life stuff, about funny things that have happened at the diner, about who she was in her past life, like when she was gathering wild strawberries in the mountains of Sonora and Pancho Villa kidnaped her and made her his cook.

"She's always praising the good cooking in other restaurants in her ads," added Bones, who says she never misses breakfast at Joy's.

One of Moseby's recent ads seemed intended to scare people away: "Try Joy's Diner. Grab a seat and holler your order. Joy cooks it, throws it on a plate, then at you and dares anyone to complain. She's big, tough and ugly. Ugliest cook in town. She wields a mean rolling pin and an overworked spatula."

Yet another advised: "Honk when you go by the Diner if you like my ad."

Regulars say the honking cars and trucks driving by the diner could be heard from one end of town to the other.

Moseby's daughters, Bonny Garcia, 32, and Connie Williams, 31, have been waitresses at Joy's for years.

"Connie and I are like mom. We're no lightweights," Garcia said. "When the place is packed and we're real busy and the three of us pass each other behind the counter at the same time, we often get stuck together. That always brings the house down."

When townspeople are in need, Moseby is one of the first to respond. Last year, when a local resident was critically burned and in need of blood, she posted a sign at the diner, prompting 35 customers to donate blood.

For the past 20 years, the diner has been closed two months of the year so Moseby can spend time in a small Mexican village. "I love the sincerity and simplicity, the warmth and friendship of the villagers," she explained. The other 10 months of the year, she collects clothing, goods and supplies for the villagers.

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