Henry's grandson loves to cook
A woman quickly appeared to collect the breakfast sandwiches, which were stuffed with eggs, hashbrowns, cheddar cheese and fried Jersey pork roll, a German summer sausage imported from the East Coast.
“I prefer mustard with a Number Seven,” the chef told the customer. “Or you could try any of these,” he said, sweeping his hand over the forest of hot sauce bottles covering the other end of the counter.
A few minutes later, Zumpano, taking a break from the grill, popped his head out the window. “How’s everything?” he asked the Number Seven eaters and their companions, who had ordered something else.
Mouths full, they responded with upraised thumbs. Zumpano smiled. It makes him happy to feed people, he said.
“Feeding people is such an intimate thing,” said Zumpano, who named Henry’s Diner after his grandfather, a Navy veteran who taught him the value of hard work by personal example.
“I like doing comfort food for people and treating them like family,” he said. “When I can do that, it’s a joy.”
Zumpano, who has both a chef’s knife and a stack of pancakes tattooed on his arm, started cooking as a boy back in Philadelphia.
He enjoyed helping make his family’s Italian meals. And baking brownies was a favorite side activity.
He and his dad always dreamed of opening a breakfast place, he said. After all, they inherited a great family recipe for pancakes, which he now uses at Henry’s.
He thought he’d become a teacher first, like his dad. But college didn’t suit him, so he left school and started working in restaurants.
He considered going to culinary school, but it didn’t make sense to him to pay tuition to learn skills he already was using on the job. So he worked his way up in the food service hierarchy, from doing prep to cooking on the line to becoming an executive chef.
He spent a decade in Washington, D.C., working for the Black Restaurant Group. He served as executive chef at BlackSalt, which was named D.C. restaurant of the year, then became general manager, making him responsible for a quartet of restaurants.
As GM, he said, he was responsible for the Black restaurants’ wine program.
That brought him to Oregon for a wine country tour in 2008. During the tour, he visited Carlton.
He fell in love with the town, the wine-centric focus and the breakfast burritos at the Filling Station, a local deli. During a subsequent visit, he met Katie Koenig, a McMinnville native, who became his partner both in life and the restaurant business.
Zumpano retired from the Washington restaurant scene, pulled up stakes and moved to Carlton. He worked with Jay McDonald at the EIEIO Winery for awhile, then opened Henry’s Diner.
He said he hadn’t really planned to return to the food industry, but the Filling Station had closed, leaving him hankering for a good breakfast burrito. So he decided to open his own breakfast spot.
“I kept staring at this vacant lot,” he said, referring to the grassy lot diagonally across from the EIEIO Tasting Room in downtown Carlton.
The lot at Highway 47 and Main Street in Carlton, owned by Willamette Valley Vineyards, happens to be the former site of another beloved eatery, the Log Cabin.
It turned out to be perfect for Zumpano’s diner, a chrome and minty-turquoise trailer that holds a fully stocked restaurant kitchen.
With the grill, refrigeration, prep space and storage tucked into the compact space, it can get crowded, especially when Zumpano and Koenig are both working. During busy times, he said, “It’s a food ballet.”
Customers order at the counter, after consulting a menu that lists about a dozen items, ranging from the breakfast sandwiches to pancakes, French toast and biscuits with red-eye gravy. On Monday nights, they can order a dinner special — chicken pot pie topped with Zumpano’s homemade biscuit crust on one recent occasion.
They can take the food away or sit down to eat at one of several picnic tables. Canopies shelter diners from sun and rain, and brightly colored crocheted blankets are available to keep them warm on chilly days.
Zumpano’s long-term plans include giving Henry’s Diner a permanent home. He decided to start with a food cart, he said, because he didn’t want to be beholden to anyone.
“I wanted to work for myself, and I could open on my own, with my own money,” he said. “It’s a good scale for me, something I can do with just myself and Katie.”
Open until 2 p.m. weekdays, the diner has been busy since its premiere in late March.
Wine country tourists occasionally stop by, but Yamhill County residents account for the bulk of the business. “I love that the locals are jazzed,” he said.
Zumpano counts on the comfort-food menu and good, local ingredients to bring people back. He uses Carlton Farms meats and Carlton Bakery brioche, for instance.
Some people come for ingredients rarely seen on menus here: Jersey roll, a sandwich of smoked salmon with eggs and greens, tilapia tacos, a barbecued bacon-cheddar meatloaf sandwich; maybe the Philly pork scrapple. When people ask about the latter, he said, “I just tell them it’s delicious.”
Others come for the reason’s Zumpano opened the diner in the first place: the breakfast burrito.
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or email@example.com.
OTHER FOOD TRUCKS
Among the food trucks that can be found in McMinnville are:
- The La Rancherita food truck sells Mexican food at Third and Galloway, next to a small convenience store.
- Tacos el Paradiso can be found in a lot across from Baker Field, where Baker and Adams streets come together.
- The Chicken Coop, 755 N.E. Alpine St. in the Granary District, is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 503-560-8441.