MARION — Looking around West End Diner, her new restaurant on the outskirts of downtown Marion, Annette Perry sees the spirit of her mother, Nina Schlegel.
Schlegel died Oct. 1, just a few days before West End opened Oct. 7. It’s a place where Perry hopes to celebrate homemade food and handmade artisan goods.
“She was an inspiration for a lot of this. She was a great cook; she made everything from scratch. She has four sisters, and they’re all wonderful artists. And she collected antiques. I didn’t know anything but the real stuff my whole life,” Perry said.
The diner is just the first step in Perry’s vision for the Sixth Avenue block, where she and her husband, Jack Perry, bought five properties in proximity to each other in 2017. They’re calling the overall space Marion West End and are planning artisan spaces and outdoor festivals in addition to apartments and the restaurant.
“I was fascinated by what Marion is trying to do, and I’ve watched what happened at NewBo,” she said. “The vision for the block was always the same — a retail and venue hub for Marion.”
Jack Perry also owns streaming technology company Syncbak, and Annette Perry previously worked in marketing.
Two of the houses they bought were in very poor condition and were torn down. Perry’s plan is to set up a number of small pop-up mini-shops in a now-empty lot next to the restaurant. She still is working on getting approval for the plan from the Marion City Council but envisions temporary tiny house-style shops being rented out to artisans between May and the December holidays. The second lot would be used for outdoor events like art fairs, yoga and farmers markets.
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“I know, because of my marketing background, there is a hunger for things that are real — real food, real things, made by hand,” she said.
The two-story brick house that became West End Diner was originally built in 1890, and the Perrys bought it from a woman who had lived there since 1978. They transformed the first floor into a restaurant, pulling up several layers of carpet to uncover original wooden floor boards and using wood from the home’s former carriage house to frame out the entryways between rooms. They are renting out the second floor apartment.
Annette Perry said she didn’t set out to run a cafe; rather she wanted to help support a specific vision for her community.
“I’m not a restaurateur. I’m a Marionite,” she said.
As the building was being renovated, she started talking with other area restaurateurs about opening something in the location.
She said none of their proposals lined up with what she wanted for the spot, so she decided she would do it herself.
“If you think I’m crazy, you’re right,” she said. “Jack talked me into it. He said, ‘You can do this.’”
She started working on a menu, testing recipes over three months. The result is a mix of cafe classics and favorites from her own family.
Her son loves churros, so those are on the dessert menu with chocolate dipping sauce.
Open for breakfast and lunch, there is a range of coffee and espresso drinks along with items like egg scrambles and loaded grits, as well as sandwiches and salads.
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On Wednesdays there is brisket plates, and on Fridays it serves chili or Chicago-style hot dogs. Perry confessed she is vegetarian except for hot dogs, which is why she wanted them on the menu.
“I really have a thing for hot dogs,” she said.
An outdoor patio will provide additional seating in the spring, which is when Perry also hopes to add dinner hours with an extended menu and beer and wine.
Her father has been at West End most days since it opened, Perry said, reading the newspaper, talking to customers and helping out. It’s helped him to stay busy after her mother’s death, Perry said.
“I know she’s here, and she would love the fact we are celebrating art and food,” she said.
She said her mother taught her to work hard and to be generous; Schlegel lived that ethos by caring for 57 foster babies over her life.
Perry raised three children of her own and has six grandchildren. Now that her children are all grown, she’s been pouring herself into West End.
“I wake up in the morning and say, ‘Am I burning out?’ I’m not. It just feels natural. It’s what I want to do,” she said.
If You Go
• What: West End Diner
• Where: 809 Sixth Ave., Marion
• Hours: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday
• Details: (319) 329-6568, facebook.com/WestEndMarion
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