About Us: historical photo of our first restaurant

About Us

In the early days.

When Hornick and his partner, “Chef Jo” Kaucher, opened the restaurant in 1983, critics, loan officers and family members alike scoffed at the idea, some vehemently. “It’s like we were going against apple pie and mom and the whole thing,” Hornick recalled. “Big shot advertising guys came in and said you’re pissing against the wind.”

Their answer was to create an atmosphere as American as mini malls by decorating the place with vintage ads and neon lights and serving up heaping helpings of comfort food, but without the meat. “Instead of burgers, we have veggie burgers,” explains Kaucher, who, together with a long line of collaborators in the kitchen, created the Diner’s menu and authored The Chicago Diner cookbooks. “Instead of french fries we serve home fries,” she adds. They also offer vegan milkshakes, a Radical Reuben with homemade seitan in place of corned beef, biscuits & vegetarian gravy, and Chick’n Fingers for the kids.

The restaurant fits the vegetarian mold about as little as its owners do. Hornick was lured into the vegetarian lifestyle — and into Kaucher’s life — while working at the Chicago Board of Options as a commodities trader. Although fairly successful, he says he felt unsatisfied. He began eating natural foods for health reasons and soon became a regular at the Breadshop Kitchen, a local hippie haunt where Kaucher was slaving away baking bread. “I just felt better eating there,” he explained. “I thought it was the wave of the future.”

Starting out as a dishwasher.

One day he noticed a “dishwasher wanted” sign and was inspired. He quit his job at the Board and, despite warnings that the Breadshop could soon go under, he got to work.

“I came in as a dishwasher and after two weeks I told the owner I thought I could save the place,” he said, adding that since his background was in finance, he saw it as a worthy challenge. And it worked, for a time. “When Mickey came in, it was the first time the place made a profit,” Kaucher recalls, shaking her head, “and he didn’t even know what a cabbage was. I thought, ‘this guy is going to manage the restaurant?’”

Nevertheless, eventually Mickey left the Breadshop. The business went under shortly thereafter and Kaucher decided to leave Chicago for California.

Although the two weren’t yet romantically involved, she says when she told him goodbye, he said, “Someday I’ll find you, wherever you are, and we’ll open a restaurant.” A few years later, she returned to Chicago, and he did.

Check out our current menu and you’ll still see many of the options from our early menus.

About Us: historical photo of our first street fair


Best of Chicago Readers’ Choice 
Best Vegetarian 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009
Best Vegan Restaurant 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 (runner up), 2010
Best Wait Staff 2014 (runner up)
Best Vegan Nosh 2009
Best Diner 2008

The Daily Meal
Top 25 Vegetarian Restaurants in the World, 2015

Recommended 2013, 2012, 2011

Veggie Awards
Favorite Vegetarian Restaurant 2011, 2009, 2005
Favorite Brunch 2005, 2006
Best Down Home Cookin’ 2005

Chicago’s Best Vegetarian 2010

Darn Good Diners 2010

Dining Out Awards
Best Restaurant Midwest 2009

Reader’s Choice Awards
Best in Midwest: Radical Reuben 2008

City’s Best Vegetarian 2008, 2007, 2006
City’s Best Healthy Dining 2005

Eat Out Awards
Best Vegetarian Restaurant 2007

Best Healthy Dining 2006
Best Vegetarian 2004

Vegetarian Tops
Best Buys: Other Good Values