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Local diner brings poetry to Hamburg

Poetry night at the Woodlawn Diner in Hamburg.
Poetry is alive and well in the Hamburg area, thanks to an unassuming little diner on Route Five near the Lackawanna border and the family who runs it.

The Woodlawn Diner, which recently celebrated its 28th birthday, is a family-run diner that harkens back to a time when locally owned diners were the norm, not the exception. Owner Dave Ries, his wife, Joan and daughter Sara do more than just serve up traditional diner food, however. They also run poetry readings several times a year on Sunday afternoons, turning the diner into a platform for area poets to show-off their work.

“I didn’t consider poetry a big deal,” said Dave Ries, who works on his only day off to help put on the events, “but it has taken off like crazy.”

Sara Ries hosts the events, which also includes a meat option or a vegetarian option for dinner. The idea was to bring together Sara’s interest in poetry with the family business. One day while working together, Sara and her father came up with the idea for a poetry event and began exchanging ideas on how to do it.

“I had talked about having a poetry reading here, but it was (my dad’s) idea to have the dinners included with the event,” she said. “That day, it was born and we talked about it during our breaks in between customers.”

The idea came to fruition, and they’ve been holding events at the diner for the last three years, Sara said.

“My vision for this event was that I wanted to bring poetry to a place that doesn’t usually have poetry, an unusual place,” she said. “Like, you wouldn’t think of a diner as a place that has poetry. I wanted to bring poetry to not only people who write poetry and read poetry, but people who are customers at the diner.”

The readings and dinner cost $14 and are held every five weeks or so during the winter, or when the family can get together and put the event on. Each member of the family plays a role in the events.

“My mom takes the money for the tickets when people arrive and she helps serve food and get drinks,” Sara said. “My father cooks all of the food. My boyfriend helps out all of the time as well. It really takes the effort of all of us.”

The feedback from people who attend the event has been great, Sara said. People come from all over the area, as the event has grown in popularity.

For Dave and Joan Ries, the idea of bringing together poetry and the diner has been very fulfilling, their daughter said.

“They really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing they can share.”

The events are R.S.V.P. only, as the diner only fits so many people. For those interested in attending one of the poetry events, email Sara at to get on her list. She sends an email to the list when an event is coming up, and interested parties can R.S.V.P. from there. Her book of poetry, “Come in, We’re Open” is also available at the diner.


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