What would we do without King’s Diner? When we reached the peak of the coronavirus restrictions, people worried that Eleanor King, the diner’s proprietor, would be forced to close down. But Eleanor, like other restaurateurs, circumvented the negative impact of the COVID shutdowns by offering take-out service.
It’s good to see that the restaurant on Mill Bay Road is open for business.
King’s Diner is more than an eatery. It’s a place where Kodiak’s diverse populace visits with their neighbors, discussing local and national current affairs and telling stories while sipping fresh coffee and consuming Eleanor’s savory sourdough pancakes and tasty omelettes.
Eleanor has been in business for nearly 40 years. Her professionalism has gained notoriety from the Alaska Federation of Natives, which granted her a small-business award for improving opportunities for Alaska Natives, which have comprised a large part of her work force.
King’s Diner started out in the upstairs section of the Wien airlines terminal at the Kodiak airport.
I recall having breakfast there one morning with my friend, Leonard Helgason. (Oh, how he loved Eleanor’s sourdoughs.) It was a busy shift. Next to our table sat a couple of brazen off-island sports fishermen who impatiently waited for a waitress to serve them. Finally, one of the fishermen whistled for attention. No sooner had the man’s lips relaxed than Eleanor was at the table, chiding him for acting rudely.
“My waitresses aren’t cattle,” she said.
Eleanor fiercely stood up for her help, and that fidelity is what endeared long-time waitress Joy Parker to her.
“She was good to everybody,” said Joy, agreeing that Eleanor was worthy of the AFN honor.
Joy noted that Eleanor has used her business to support community fundraisers, such as the Kodiak Christian School, Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral (of which she is a member) and other entities.
Waitress Kyla Turner said she’s inspired by Eleanor’s good work ethic. She opens up the restaurant early in the morning and keeps on going all day.
Eleanor said she was “self-taught” for the most part, but she credits her father, Ivar Wallin Sr., for helping her excel in her profession. Ivar cooked at the Senior Center and local restaurants for many years.
Tom and Mary Gallagher, who owned the Polar Bear Café, were also her mentors.
“Ninety percent of my restaurant experience came from Tom and Mary. I hope that I can pass on what I learned from them,” Eleanor said.
Working for the Gallaghers “was a wonderful experience,” she said. “They were just like parents to me.”
Eleanor lost her own mother, Luba Wallin, when she was 5 years old. Her grandparents, Ivar and Clara Wallin, took in Eleanor and her younger brother Charlie. They also raised nine of their own children.
The Wallins lived in Chignik. Clara and her grandchildren moved to Kodiak in September 1958 after Eleanor’s grandfather died. Her dad, Ivar Sr., soon joined his mother and children.
“We never went back,” Eleanor said. “We loved it here. We loved the fact that when winter came, we didn’t have to carry water and roll oil drums.”
In 1962, Eleanor married Robert (Robbie) A. King, grandson of Orthodox priest Father Cecil King.
Now that she had her own home, Eleanor took care of her grandmother, who had raised her. She planned many birthday parties for her.
When complimented on her ability to put on a good spread of food, Eleanor responded, “I always cook big.”
Besides cooking for her business, Eleanor was a kitchen manager for the Kodiak Junior High, East and Main Elementary schools. She made sure that on every school day, 220 students got their proper lunches.
“I never tire of cooking,” Eleanor told me in an interview. “You get to try new recipes. It’s always a challenge. That’s what I like.”
It’s obvious that Eleanor loves to cook. But she also loves to socialize with the people she serves. Sometimes she sneaks away from the kitchen at King’s Diner so that she can greet her customers and make sure they’re doing well.
And there are times when the customer must ask the same of Eleanor.
Within the past several years, Eleanor has lost family members, including her husband and their daughter Theresa Marie King.
Yet, every day she cheerfully cooks for and greets the customers who gather to enjoy the blessings of fellowship and good food. King’s Diner is a Kodiak institution with a pleasing aroma.