All Hail Queen Mary! Mary’s Gourmet Diner Reigns Supreme
If you asked Mary Haglund 20 years ago where she would be today, one wonders if her answer would’ve been, “I plan to be the Breakfast Queen of Winston-Salem.”
Well….She certainly is.
Established in 2000 as Mary’s Of Course, a catering company, the business transitioned to a standing restaurant space on Brookstown Avenue called Breakfast Of Course and several years ago, became Mary’s Gourmet Diner. The diner is now housed in a former bank on Trade Street in the Arts District. The menu is predominantly breakfast and brunch, but also lists specialty sandwiches, grilled cheese and lots of imaginative features. Of course, to the locals, the eatery is simply known as Mary’s. It is almost always busy. And you’ll likely find yourself waiting for a table during the brunch rush on Saturday and Sunday. It’s no big deal at all. People go to Mary’s to visit as well as to eat.
You’re instantly drawn in by the openness and family feel of the space. The walls are filled with works by local artists and whimsical salt and pepper shakers adorn the tables, a hat tip to a passion the Queen has for collecting them. Mix and match dinnerware add to the eclectic vibe. I don’t know about you, but CorningWare makes me happy. I bet Mary loves that it’s resilient, just like her. Mary’s story is that of a woman who overcame personal struggles with sobriety and now, decades sober, lives each day with an open and grateful heart.
In addition to having arguably the most popular restaurant in downtown Winston-Salem, Mary has long been a champion of local farmers and purveyors. She says, “I am an old hippie and my food goddess is Alice Waters. She’s the one who started Farm-to-Table on the West Coast many years ago. I have followed her career, read all her books and finally got to meet her a few years ago in Greensboro.” Mary says when she decided to open a restaurant she knew she wanted to use as many locally-produced items as possible. “At that time I had one farm, Bill and Margie Imus from MingleWood Farm. Then, I found dairy from a third generation dairy farm, Homeland Creamery. A few farms over near Julian, were the Wards who have provided my beautiful eggs for years. I get my organic stone-ground yellow grits from Lindley Mills. My biscuit flour is called Snowflake from Sanford Mills in Henderson.” Harmony Ridge Farms, Shore Farms Organics and Krankie’s Coffee are just a few others that deliver goods through the diner’s doors each week.
Her first farmer, Margie Imus, says she and her husband applaud everything Mary has done. “Bill and I got to be friends with her when we were making produce deliveries years ago. Mary has always been a big supporter of the local food movement and farmers, before it was even popular. She’s always interested to change her menu according to what is coming in to feature the season from her farmers, as she knows it is the freshest and in most cases, the cleanest food available for her customers.”
I recently visited Mary’s again for brunch, where it was packed of course. I really enjoyed the Eggs Benedict feature with corn cakes (like a grit cake) topped with collard greens, Giacomo’s chicken sausage, egg to order and smoked paprika hollandaise and Buttercup Cheese. It was the best hollandaise I’d ever tasted. When asked, Mary says the corn cake plate is one of her favorite things on the menu. “The corn cakes are just like my grandma used to make for us when we were kids. I love them with maple syrup. The plate comes with eggs, bacon or sausage and a side item. Yum.”
I also love Mary’s Chopped House salad that is so brimming with meat, cheese, and beautiful accoutrements that it is practically spilling over the plate. There’s just something about the vinaigrette on that salad and the pimento cheese … it is completely satisfying and decently priced for a salad (under $10). But Mary, the adventurer, also encourages diners to think out of the box. “Our menu is really solid. We started with only a chalkboard and allowed the menu to develop organically, based on customer demand.” She says, “Two sandwiches we have that always surprise people because they’re so good are our Rueben, which you can choose smoked turkey ,smoked sausage or tempeh, a vegetarian meat substitute, and number two, our barbecue which is a whole wheat bun with choice of tofu, tempeh or chicken, smoky barbecue sauce, Swiss cheese and our homemade slaw of the day.” An example of the slaw of the day might be pickled cauliflower and carrot slaw. Mary adds, “Because we are mostly known for breakfast and brunch, people are often surprised at how tasty our lunch fare is.” One is encouraged not to miss the triple decker club when it’s featured, the Apple Butter Baby (a regular item) or any of the fabulous grilled cheese specials of the day.
When I asked Mary what her favorite thing about her job is, she told me, “I have two favorite things. One is cooking … I still love making biscuits and soup and specials. But I also love having a personal relationship with my customers.”
And her customers love their relationship with her. Many leave love notes about their experience on their receipt. Tim Beeman of The Man Who Ate the Town Food Blog and The Less Desirables Podcast Network has been a regular for years. “Mary is one of the most compassionate and caring, not to mention important, women in Winston-Salem. She’s a tough lady whom the community looks to for guidance, support and leadership. I’d say she’s well-loved here.”
Mary says running a business, especially a restaurant these days, hasn’t been easy, but “I have always loved being a part of this scene. I felt like an outsider in the beginning. But I built relationships with other restaurant owners and we are now a very tight-knit community.”
Jason Thiel, president of Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, says “Mary cares about people and food in innovative ways that enriches those around her. We are blessed to have her in downtown Winston-Salem.”
Of course it’s easy to be inspired by a community that is as intertwined as Winston-Salem’s culinary and arts scene, which translates to other areas of the community as well. Mary says she thinks it has much to do with the city’s history. “This town was built by Moravians. And community was what Moravians were all about. It was their heart and I believe that heart beats strong here to this day.”
And now the Queen is branching out. One big way is with “Mary’s Mavens,” an organization created to help empower local women. She explains, “Mary’s Mavens was a radical experiment born out of the EmcArts and Innovation Lab. My co-founder, Rebeccah Byer of The Olio, and I wanted to form a support group for female entrepreneurs.” She adds that since women can have a more difficult time receiving conventional bank loans, they wanted to find a way to support, empower and educate potential business leaders. “We received a lot of recognition from the facilitators of the lab and were given a seed grant which we will use for micro loans. It’s a relatively small amount of money but if it goes well we will apply for more.” Every meeting includes a speaker who tells her (or his) story. There are over 1000 members on Facebook who are invited to attend the monthly meetings as well as spinoff groups and workshops.
Mary says everything associated with the Mavens is free and all about inclusivity. “Over this past year it has developed to not only include women wishing to open their own businesses but artists and women who have felt isolated or beaten down by living in this culture.”
Minglewood’s Imus says she too is now benefiting from joining the Mavens.
“It has been a powerful thing for me. I found help for Minglewood Farm & Nature Preserve in the way of guidance, volunteering and more. It is an unbelievably powerful group of great women that are now taking Mary’s name and pushing to become true Mavens for ourselves and our community. I think this Maven group is just as important as the fabulous restaurant that Mary has brought to downtown because I have seen the way it is empowering many women, young and old.”
The crown doesn’t seem to be weighing too heavy for the queen. Mary adds, “I have seen women’s lives transformed in this past year. I do this for my daughters, my granddaughters and all women on the earth now and in the future. It’s time to speak up, act up and be bold! This group feeds my soul and is my true passion right now.”
Long Live Queen Mary.
Wanna go? Mary’s Gourmet Diner is located at 723 North Trade Street in Winston-Salem and can be found on the web at marysgourmetdiner.net. Find out more information about Mary’s Mavens by following them on Facebook.