Jul/Aug 2008 Issue

A 1950s-styled diner in Branson marks 15 years
of serving sandwiches with a song and smile.

By Lori Schueler

With a jukebox in the back, a soda fountain in the front and a sign across the wall reading, “Hard Luck and Happy Days,” this 1950s-themed diner will not only take you back in time, but will assist you in your time travel with some musical talent.

A splash of nostalgia, a dash of musical fun and helping of stick-to-your-ribs fare are all part of Branson’s popular eatery known as Mel’s Hard Luck Diner. Lori Schueler photos

Mel’s Hard Luck Diner in Branson, Mo., celebrated its 15th year of service in May. Mel Bilbo purchased the Hard Luck Diner three years ago from Herschend Family Entertainment.

The restaurant is the first place in Branson where servers sing to guests. If it’s a Friday night, the man who cooked your catfish could be singing “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. And if you get lucky, your waiter might be one of the two “American Idol” contestants who serve food at this rockin’ restaurant and could sing to you while you sip on a homemade root beer float.

General Manager Janet Hill said the diner is a must-see attraction in Branson.

“It’s good for keeping the kids entertained while parents can relax and have dinner,” Hill said.

Meet the Singing Servers

Servers must audition before they are hired, and a waiting list of people are trying to join the staff. With a total of 20 singers–servers, a soda fountain worker, a cook and the hostess–there’s talent around every corner.

Many of the servers have been involved with television entertainment and are aspiring celebrities. Jimmy Evitts was in the 1998 film “U.S. Marshals” and played an Illinois state trooper. He’s been a part of the singing crew at Mel’s Hard Luck Diner for nine years and has been a singer and piano player since he was 5 years old. He has performed on Broadway, at Silver Dollar City, on cruise ships and other shows around the country.

Two contestants from “American Idol” can be found serving food at the diner. Jason Yeager made it in the top 20 during the seventh season and Matt Kester was part of the fourth season and made it to the top 44. Yeager has worked at the diner for about 9 months and Kester has been there on and off for 12 years.

An award-winning server with a musical history, Bernie Parquette, won a Christian Dove Award and has been with the diner for 14 years.

“We love it here,” Parquette said.

She said sometimes the guests don’t believe the servers are actually singing because they can sing so well. Every once in a while, the servers have to take the microphone away and prove they aren’t lip singing.
Morgan Robertson, a waitress who has been there for about a year, said Mel’s Hard Luck Diner is her favorite place to work in Branson. She said the variety of people who visit the diner are from the very young to the very old and everyone seems to enjoy the atmosphere.

“Music is what makes people happy, and that’s why I like to share my talent with them,” Robertson said.
Every server has his or her own CD available for purchase and will autograph it upon request. With friendly, personal service, the staff makes sure each guest has an unforgettable experience by providing nonstop entertainment.

Enjoy the food

Smooth and sweet, cold and creamy, the homemade root beer float is one of the most popular items on the menu. This treat is perfect for topping off a delicious meal or to satisfy your sweet tooth. The soda fountain has more than 25 flavors of ice cream and 15 flavors of soda, however alcoholic drinks are not served.

Amusing menu items include Cheese Release Me, a grilled cheese sandwich; the Love Me Tender Fried Steak; and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Bacon Cheeseburger.

Diners who choose the Hit the Road Jack Grilled Chicken Sandwich will be pleased with the quality and monster quantity of toppings piled high on the bun. With bacon, swiss cheese, lettuce tomato, onion, and mayonnaise on the side, this sandwich will satisfy anyone with an appetite.

The french fries are known to be just as tasty cold as they are hot. Make sure to get a to-go box and take extras home.

Try homemade coleslaw from one of the cook’s personal recipes, or have a taste of the hand-dipped chicken strips.

“Food quality is very important to us,” Hill said, adding that Bilbo takes the food very seriously at the diner and has to taste and approve everything that is served.

For the convenience of large groups, the restaurant offers a bus menu. Also, children can enjoy a kid’s menu.

In addition to the quality, Mel’s Hard Luck Diner is reasonably priced. Expect to spend around $25–$30 dollars for a dinner for two.

Located at 2800 West Highway 76 in Branson, Mo., next to Kringles Christmas Store–which is 9,000 square feet of Christmas shops and also owned by Bilbo–the diner is easy to find.

They are open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m.–7:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Hours may change throughout the summer to include a breakfast. For more information, call the diner at (417) 332-0150.

Lori Schueler is an intern for AAA Midwest Traveler and AAA Southern Traveler.

What’s cooking at
Mel’s Hard Luck Diner
Sandwiches & such
Cheese Release Me
- Add ham/bacon
- Add both
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Bacon Cheeseburger
Hit the Road Jack Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Hand-dipped Chicken Strips
(these choices include fries)
Blue plate special
Love Me Tender Fried Steak
(vegetable, potatoes and garlic toast)
Sweets for the sweet
Root Beer Float

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