Rays Diner

Ray’s Diner Changing Ownership

Rays Diner

Ray’s Diner has been an institution in Excelsior Springs for 89 years, and it’s time once again for a changing of the guards. Ray’s opened in 1932 as a burger and chili stand on the North side of Broadway, in 1942 it moved across the street to its present location where it has remained ever since. Current owner/operator Brenda Fudge has been at Rays for 16½ years, taking the reins April 1, 2005. Brenda has been working in the restaurant industry for more than 47 years; she was only 11 years old when she stepped up on a milk crate and learned how to cook steaks “from rare to medium well,” at the Kearney truck stop in 1973. Now she says it’s time to take a break, spend some time with her grandkids and “have a little time for Brenda.”

Brenda is feeling good about the transition because she thinks she’s found the perfect couple, Dan and Morgan Tota, who will carry on the traditions of Ray’s. “I finally found someone who will keep it Ray’s,” she said, “Before this I had two other offers, one from a guy who wanted to gut the place and make it a storefront to lease, and another who wanted to make it some sort of chain.” To help smooth the transition Brenda will be staying on for a month to help teach Dan and Morgan all of the secrets of Ray’s menu, from the famous chili to the nuances of the persnickety hamburger press. Brenda’s last day of ownership was October 30, 2021 and the last day of full time employment will be November 30, 2021.

Brenda’s daughter Natasha Prewitt and long time employee Debbie Shanks will also be staying on to make sure customers don’t suffer too much of a shock. “Our customers are so spoiled,” says Natasha, “we keep things on-hand just for different customers whether it’s a certain kind of jelly for their toast or special ingredients for their pancakes”. Brenda recalled, “there was this one guy who would bring in his little bag of blueberries every day just so he could have his blueberry pancakes, and we took care of him.” Brenda says she’ll miss the customers and her fellow downtown business owners more than anything, “It’s like a big family here at Ray’s,” she said.

Ray’s was established by Ray and Goldie Miller, purchased by Bill and Barbara Southwick, then Dave and Shelly McKown and her mother Joan Munns, then Brenda, and now it’s being passed on to Dan and Morgan Tota. Dan and Morgan are relocating to Excelsior Springs from Colorado Springs, CO. Dan says he and Morgan couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity to fulfill a life-long dream.  Morgan knew a little about Excelsior Springs; she spent weekends with her father, William Newkirk, who lived here for 32 years. William passed away in December of 2020 and the celebration of life had to be postponed until July 2021, but it was this sad event that led the Totas back to Excelsior Springs, and eventually to Ray’s.

Morgan’s cousin, Pat Slusher (TNG Construction), learned about her and Dan’s passion for the restaurant industry and he told them about Ray’s. The next day they came and looked at the restaurant and felt almost immediately it was the right thing to do. In Colorado they’d looked at different ways to get into owning their own restaurant; food trucks, commissary kitchens, and other options, but they said they were all so prohibitively expensive, and it never felt right. Morgan said, “I don’t know if we’d have ever had this kind of opportunity where we’ve been before.”

Morgan has been in the restaurant industry for 20 years, the last 13 in management. She says her specialty is operations, general management, front of the house, and finances. “Don’t let her fool you,” Dan interjected “she’s one mean cook too!”  Dan grew up behind the counter of his grandparent’s Italian deli in Los Angeles and eventually went to culinary school in San Diego after he graduated from high school. “This is something that I’ve wanted to do since I was 8 years old,” said Dan. He says he can remember standing in the aisles of his grandparent’s shop thinking to himself, “I can’t wait until I get to do this someday.” Dan is also a self-professed diner enthusiast.“I love diners,” he said, “Ray’s is the kind of place that I would want to stop at even if I were just passing through.” 

Dan and Morgan said that their goal is to keep what people love about Ray’s the same. Dan said, “we’d be doing the community a disservice and shooting ourselves in the foot to change things that people love!” Eventually they may use daily specials to be creative and introduce some of their favorite dishes, but to start out they want to keep it all the same. The only thing they may change right off the bat is accepting credit cards as a form of payment. Although the faces behind the counter may be new, the traditions at Ray’s will continue well into the future.  Stop by Ray’s this month to wish Breda well, and to give the Totas a warm Excelsior Springs welcome.

Ray’s Diner is located at 231 E Broadway, Excelsior Springs, MO

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4 thoughts on “Ray’s Diner Changing Ownership”

  1. What a great article and warm welcome to Dan and Morgan! Wishing them great success all the way from Arizona!!

  2. Hi my name is Donna (Williams )Moore. I grew up in Excelsior Springs and left in the 80s Ray’s was my favorite place to eat would stop after school my mom and I would go just about every Saturday there was nothing like it to sit in a booth and listen to the jukebox and sitting with friends I remember when it was across the street but mostly where it is today I will be back up there in about two weeks and I will have to stop in

  3. Deby Green Culbertson

    Brenda enjoy your retirement and congratulations to the new owners and Welcome to Excelsior Springs!!

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