Mall eatery offers a bit of Texas in the Midwest

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 5, 2001

If you have ever craved a taste of Texas while in Austin, new Diamond Dave’s owner Kim Hammer has the restaurant for you.

Monday, March 05, 2001

If you have ever craved a taste of Texas while in Austin, new Diamond Dave’s owner Kim Hammer has the restaurant for you.

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Diamond Dave’s is a franchise started by a man who grew up on the southern Texas border. No, his name was not Dave.

When he moved to the Midwest, ethnic food was not popular nor readily available. So, he tried to duplicate the food he had grown up with, which had been made by a Mexican cook in his home. His original business endeavor was a fast-food restaurant. As its popularity grew, it evolved into a full-service restaurant.

Hammer started working at Diamond Dave’s about a year ago, bartending and filling in during Christmas parties, while she worked at the Mower County Shopper. She has been a bartender 15 to 16 years.

She "ate here (Diamond Dave’s) constantly," she said, and knew owner Leah Hejl.

"I always wanted to go into business for myself, but I don’t know that I thought about the restaurant business," she said. She became the sole owner of the property on Jan. 1.

The restaurant serves American, Tex-Mex and Mexican food in a rustic and eclectic decor. Tex-Mex food is traditionally hotter than Mexican food because of the use of green chiles from Texas.

"The food is good and the margaritas are the best in town," Hammer said.

Sitting among pinatas and cacti, Hammer explained she was born and raised in Albert Lea and graduated from Albert Lea High School. After graduating, she attended the University of Minnesota and changed schools several times before obtaining an accounting degree. She said she has used her degree, but has never had a job in the field she was educated for. Since 1985, she has been a graphic artist and bartender.

Hammer has a very diversified resume. She has practiced graphic arts through free-lance work and at the Mower County Shopper and the Arabian Horse Times in Waseca. In addition, she taught computer skills and ceramics to people through community education classes.

One place close to her heart is Okoboji, Iowa, a town built on a blue water lake. She managed a bar in Okoboji that included a fine dining restaurant, an emporium with 30 specialty shops and a bar. She has returned about once a month this winter to do the accounting book work for the restaurant.

In Austin, 15 employees work in the front and 10 work in the kitchen. Two of her current employees, "Diamond" Dave Hanson and Wanda Gannon, worked with Hammer in Okoboji.

"That really is his nickname," she said of Hanson. "It’s so odd he would be working here."

Hammer brought Hanson from Okoboji to work in the kitchen, and persuaded Gannon to come to Austin to be the kitchen manager. The veteran cook is Dominic Janning.

Most of the staff currently working was here when she came to Austin.

"They are fabulous," she said of her employees. "They are what makes this place fun."

Hammer does the accounting, occasionally bartends and manages the 25 employees of the restaurant. "Eventually, I’ll know how to do all the stuff in the kitchen," she said of her future plans.

"It’s wonderful," Hammer added, of her experience owning a restaurant so far. "The people in Austin have been very nice. They have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome."

Although she loves the town, she has one major concern – the lack of a taxi service in Austin.

"If the city fathers want to keep people from drinking and driving, they need to help them get home," she said.

Hammer is planning a grand reopening celebration on May 4-6 to coincide with the Mexican-American holiday, Cinco de Mayo. The Cartwright Brothers, a comedy act and classic rock-‘n’-roll group from Okoboji, will perform during the celebration and in early April at the restaurant.

She also would like to have a celebration in September to coincide with Mexican Independence Day. Parking lot parties or street dances are two ideas she is considering.

"I got permission from the mall (OakPark Mall) to do that yesterday," she said Friday.

With Riverland Community College nearby she would like to add karaoke to the offerings at Diamond Dave’s. Currently, a big screen TV is available to view sporting events.

"While the wives are shopping, the guys can watch sporting events and have a beer," she said.

"I’m not going anywhere," she said, when asked if she plans to stay in Austin. Her long-term plans include publishing her own magazine one day, but for now she is focusing on her restaurant and a possible expansion to Albert Lea.

"Maybe somewhere down the road, I’ll try to put another one in Albert Lea," she said. She will stay in Austin at least until her youngest daughter, now 7, graduates from high school.

Since owning the business, Hammer has changed the background music to all Latin. She said the focus of the restaurant staff is on service and fun.

"The most important thing is to make sure our customers get as much attention as they need, the food is great and people leave wanting to come back again," she said.