Voices > Soul Food

Big-time mission

An everyday man sees his diner as a mission field

Issue: "Clinton: Final straw?," March 28, 1998

Mitch Nyeste's Big Time Diner, with all the white and chrome and the swivel stools at the counter, looks like nothing more than a spot for a blue-plate special. But it is more. Big Time Diner is a mission outpost, ministry headquarters for Mr. Nyeste-believer, restaurateur, entrepreneur, evangelist.

In an age when we laud the work of professional missionaries assigned to inner cities and far-off lands, Mr. Nyeste reminds us that we all are called. One is not to gloat in the missionary calling, nor is one to find excuse not to evangelize and glorify God in other ways as we run a restaurant or ride shotgun on a trash truck or design a bridge. By example, Mr. Nyeste challenges me to examine my motives as I pursue my dreams, and he encourages me that in pursuing my dreams, I can serve my Lord. "We're all ministers," he says. "We're all called to do God's work."

Mr. Nyeste, a transplant from Michigan, started the restaurant two years ago. He had been in the systems business, selling and overhauling cash-register units for restaurants, first in Atlanta, and then in Mobile, Ala. From an early age, however, he had dreamed of opening a restaurant. When God gave him the opportunity, he took it.

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His little diner on the west side of Mobile is a G-rated version of Cheers, where everybody knows your name, or if they don't, they treat you as if they do. The Big Time Diner is smoke-free, alcohol-free, and closed on Sunday-sure-fire policies, said the doubters, for failure. Mr. Nyeste didn't think so, but even if he had believed the nay-sayers, he thought it more important to follow his religious convictions. "Ultimately, my focus is not on money," he says. "I'm trying to make a difference in the lives of the people who work for us."

The people who work for him are mostly college age, some married, most not. He employs a well-known four-star chef who cooks up turnip greens that are ambrosia. Thirty to forty percent of his employees show an interest in Christ, evident by their WWJD bracelets and the Scripture references they write on the back of the checks. Their faith, also, is evident in the manner in which they comport themselves.

For a while, his employees led a Bible study in which Mr. Nyeste was simply a participant. He wanted any such activity to originate with the employees, lest anyone think he could curry favor with the boss by going spiritual. They know where he stands: Sometimes he shares the gospel. Sometimes he offers counsel on lifestyle choices or specific, real-life issues like abortion.

In the day-to-day, they see a boss who attempts to live what he believes, a boss who isn't perfect. "It's not hunky-dory all the time," Mr. Nyeste says. "Working six days a week, always on call. It's difficult in a stressful, restaurant environment to maintain calm. A couple of times, I have lost control."

Big Time Diner is a big-time mission, serving nourishment for the body with an eye on the soul, its owner a model of an everyday man serving Christ in an everyday way. Usually, at the lunch and supper hours, the line is long. Mr. Nyeste and his diner are a paradigm of financial reward following obedience to a call to perform a mission God's way, although, Mr. Nyeste is quick to add, it's not a quid pro quo. God was under no financial obligation simply because he closes the diner on Sundays. "I believe God's purpose," he says, "is to provide a place where non-Christian employees might see a difference and be drawn to Christ.

"When we get to heaven," he adds, "it's not going to matter how many Big Time Diners I had. What's going to matter is the difference I made in people's lives."

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