HIDDEN GEMS, WYOMING’S BEST EATS: Nearly a Century On, Cheyenne’s Luxury Diner Is Alive and Kicking
- Published In: Hidden Gems: Wyoming's Best Eats
- Last Updated: Jul 06, 2023
Server Sam Winters busses a table in a former trolley car that's said to have traveled the streets of Cheyenne before it was parked. Winters elicited groans from numerous diners that day because the restaurant ran out of their beloved green chili. (Wyoming Truth photo by David Dudley)
By David Dudley
Special to the Wyoming Truth
When Sam Winters, a server at Cheyenne’s Luxury Diner, tells me that they’re out of green chili, I don’t think much of it.
I’m eyeing the Box Car ($14.99), which consists of scrambled eggs with diced ham and melted cheddar cheese, a choice of hash browns or Luxury potatoes (home fries lightly coated in paprika and sautéed with diced onions and bell peppers) and a choice of bread—toast, biscuit or pancake.
After taking my order, Winters went to the next table, where two diners had just sat down.
“So you guys know, we’re out of green chili today,” she said.
“Oh, no! Really?” one of the diners asked.
“Sorry!” Winters said, disappearing through a doorway that leads through the Luxury Diner’s signature trolley car, which operated on the streets of Cheyenne from 1894 to 1912.
Listening to the regulars complain to their companions, I make a note: “Next time, try the green chili.”
Dreaming up new ways to keep tradition alive
The diner, which has been owned by various restaurateurs since 1926, is now owned and operated by the brother-sister duo Del and Angie Jimenez.
Jimenez, 41, was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. He traveled with his family to America to attend the University of Wyoming, where earned a bachelor’s degree in international business and Spanish in 2005. After working in the hospitality industry for a decade, he looked for a new challenge.
“In late 2020, I saw that the Luxury Diner was up for sale,” Jimenez said. “I knew it was important to the community. It’s also a key stopping point along the road from Colorado to Rapid City, South Dakota. There are lots of people that depend upon this little diner. So I jumped at the chance to keep it alive.”
After buying the diner in January 2021, Jimenez shut it down for one month—the first time it had been closed in 40 years. “. . . I knew it needed a deep clean and a reset,” he said.
When he reopened, diners were slow to return. Jimenez stuck to his plan, and within a year, the customer base was back.
“Many of our customers aren’t on social media, so it took a while for the good news to get around,” he said.
In the meantime, he continued to serve breakfast dishes like the Conductor ($14.99), which is corned beef hash with two eggs, choice of potatoes and bread, and the Caboose ($15.99), a chicken-fried steak, two eggs, choice of potatoes and bread.
For lunch, there are burgers. The Biker Burger ($15.99) is a favorite. It comes with Swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions and green chili, served with fries. The French dip ($14.99) is also popular.
“The spirit of the American diner is to prepare good food quickly, while keeping your coffee cup full until you leave,” Jimenez said. “We also play good music. Country in the front, reggae in the back. That’s what we do.”
And it seems to be paying off. On average, Jimenez goes through about 1,360 eggs a week and five pounds of Hatch green chilies.
“During Cheyenne Frontier Days, those numbers double,” he added.
It takes two to tango
Jimenez learned quickly that he couldn’t do it alone. He was confident in his ability to run a business and manage his team, but he struggled to manage the kitchen and the front of house simultaneously. So he tapped his sister, Angie, to manage the latter.
“Which is kind of funny,” Angie said. “I’m actually really shy. And I’m a social worker. I didn’t know how to run a restaurant.”
Though it was challenging, Angie said she learned by doing. She’s the one who makes the green chili sauce, which starts with a pork base and includes onions, tomatoes, and, occasionally, jalapenos.
“I learned to make it from a regular named Carl,'” Angie said. “We don’t know his last name, but he was the lead chef at The Plains Hotel for many years.”
The green chili sauce is different every day. “It depends upon what ingredients I can get,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a little sweet, sometimes spicy—but it’s always good.”
When I returned to the Luxury Diner for the second time, the green chili was plentiful. I ordered the Santa Fe ($12.99), a big burrito filled with refried beans, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese and salsa. It comes smothered in green chili with a crema drizzle and a side of Luxury potatoes.
That first bite revealed why the regulars were so disappointed to hear that there was no green chili sauce a few days before. Whether added to an omelet, burrito or burger, the versatile sauce lends a pop of flavor to everything it touches.
Lesson learned. If the regulars emit a collective groan when the kitchen runs out of something, you listen.
Luxury Diner, 1401 W Lincolnway, Cheyenne, Wyoming; (307) 635-1219. Open Monday through Thursday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday through Sunday 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.