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One diner, two fires and more than 8,000 free meals: Broadway Diner keeps providing food for kids


Each day since Columbia Public Schools went all-online in March as the COVID-19 pandemic took off, the Broadway Diner has provided free meals to kids who need them.

That did not stop for the Easter holiday, nor was it put on pause after two separate fires at the diner in August. David Johnson, the owner of Broadway Diner, said they have given out more than 8,000 free meals throughout the pandemic.

"The first couple of days, we were probably feeding 30-50 kids a day," Johnson said. "We saw a peak probably a month into the pandemic, where we were doing like 100-120 meals a day. Now we're back to about 30."

Broadway Diner was forced to shut down for two days in mid-August, however. The Columbia Fire Department responded to Broadway Diner shortly after 6 a.m. Aug. 19 for a small grease fire in the kitchen.

"The Columbia Fire Department not only came and put out the fire and saved this business, but they graciously prepared all the food," Johnson said. "We fed those kids for the two days we were down."

According to Boone County health inspection reports, the diner had no violations the following day.

Then, on Monday, Johnson said there was another fire. He said it was a "small electrical fire on the roof."

Despite the setbacks, Johnson is continuing to offer free meals each day. This is in part thanks to community donations used to buy the food; each meal is approximately $5.

"It's the most important work of my life, I think," Johnson said. "So far, anyway."

With Monday night's decision to switch to online-only learning in Columbia Public Schools, he said Broadway Diner will continue to give out meals.

The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services also inspected the Broadway Diner on July 15 for a routine inspection. The diner was compliant with the food code, the mask ordinance and the COVID-19 health order.

Article Topic Follows: Behind the Kitchen Door
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Molly Stawinoga

Molly Stawinoga is ABC 17’s weekday morning anchor and a reporter at ABC 17 News. Molly joined the news team in 2017 while studying political science, journalism and Spanish at the University of Missouri. She is originally from DeKalb, Illinois.


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