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New restaurant opens west of freeway in Lathrop

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New restaurant opens west of freeway in Lathrop

Big Dan's Neighborhood Diner is co-owned by Lathrop Planning Commissioner Dan Mac Neilage and his two adult children, Melissa and Mike. The cash register in the picture was previously owned by Isad...

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin


POSTED June 10, 2009 1:55 a.m.
LATHROP – Goodbye, Heidi. Welcome, Big Dan.

That’s Big Dan’s Neighborhood Diner. It’s the latest dining destination to open in Lathrop, and only the second to open west of Interstate 5 in the Mossdale Landing area.

The new sit-down restaurant is located in the freeway frontage road facility that was the short-lived home of Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli. But unlike its predecessor, Big Dan’s is not a franchise but just a small-town, home-grown eating place offering palate-pleasing meals from the home kitchen of the Mac Neilage family – namely, Dan and his two children, Melissa and Mike.

“It’s a true neighborhood gathering place with warm friendship and good food,” said Dan Mac Neilage of his family restaurant located on the Manthey freeway frontage road just behind the

Target shopping center and just a block east of Lathrop City Hall on Towne Centre Drive.

“Our mantra is this: bring a hearty appetite ‘cause this ain’t no sushi joint,” said Mac Neilage, a construction superintendent for many years who currently serves on the city Planning Commission.

An avid cook who has treated numerous community groups to his culinary expertise and skills through the years, Mac Neilage will easily rattle off the long list of specially prepared offerings on his restaurant’s menu.

“We have pancakes the size of a manhole cover, four-egg omelets, and every day we have blue specials for lunch – hot dogs and sausages and burgers. But in addition to that – for instance, yesterday we had spaghetti, today we have pork chops, on Wednesday we have chicken, and on  Friday we have shrimp scampi with rice pilaf.”

Big Dan’s, he said, is a “truly good, healthy, and hearty place to eat with every produce we can get locally grown.”

His new business is doing all it can to help stimulate the local economy, Mac Neilage said. In addition to obtaining as much locally grown produce as he can to incorporate in his menus, he is featuring the culinary talents of a local resident.

“We found a great lady right here in Lathrop that makes her own pies and preserves, and so we’re featuring her pies made fresh daily in our kitchen and served fresh at your table,” Mac Neilage said.

The family-owned and family-operated eating place is the realization of the dream that Mac Neilage had planned for a long time with his late wife. Teresa, who was a well-liked Manteca Unified School bus driver and a tireless community volunteer, succumbed to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or Lou Gehrig’s disease about three years ago.

“The inspiration (for the restaurant) came from Teresa. It was always a dream of ours to have our dining place and cooking for the masses. We always thought we could make a go of it with our cooking skills and personalities, and have a good, decent, warm hearty meal at a fair price. So this is our way to have her legacy live on,” Mac Neilage explained.

They originally thought of naming the restaurant Teresa’s Joint but balked at that because they “felt that may be offensive to some people.”

But, said Mac Neilage, “we have some things on the menu that were her recipes.”

A bit of trivia about Big Dan’s Neighborhood Diner: its cash register machine was formerly owned by Isadore’s in Manteca.

His partners in the business are his two adult children – Melissa, who studied one year at Boise State University in Idaho and plans to continue her studies either at the University of the Pacific in Stockton or California State University, Stanislaus, and Mike who just finished his high school studies.

All three of them will “do a little bit of everything” to run the place, from preparing and serving the food to cleanup.
“We’re being a family and that’s what we want,” Mac Neilage said.

The sit-down diner has a seating capacity of 72 people inside plus another 24 seating capacity outside on the veranda. Customers’ dining pleasure is enhanced by “music and ambient lighting,” Mac Neilage said.

Business hours are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.

For more information about the Big Dan’s Neighborhood Diner, call 234-2928.

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