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Midland restaurateur puts helping others on the menu

'I just wanted to give something to other people,' said owner of Lorie’s Small Town Diner, who grew up with nothing and has a deep desire to help others

When you know what it’s like to go without, you never want to see others living that way.

Lorie Marshall says she came from a family that had nothing. 

That has led her to feed more than 800 people — out of the goodness of her heart — over the last three years that she’s been in business. 

Marshall is the owner of Lorie’s Small Town Diner, and she does everything at the diner — all the cooking, cleaning, serving — everything. Marshall is the quintessential one-woman show.

“Can you show me another restaurant that does that? Because it’s crazy!” she says with a laugh.

Shortly after opening the diner three years ago, Marshall started noticing there were a lot of people in need over the course of the pandemic. 

“Behind the restaurant, I’ve seen over 200 homeless people in the last three years,” says Marshall. 

Lorie’s Small Town Diner is located at 401 William St. in Midland; Tiffin Park, which leads into the Simcoe County Forest, is just behind the restaurant. Through most of the summer months during the pandemic, that stretch of the forest was home to transient families and people who pitched tents in makeshift shelters.

“They would hang out around the restaurant and ask for food,” says Marshall, explaining how she got to know the people she fed. 

“So I decided to make some food and hand it out to people,” she says matter-of-factly. 

The first year, she fed 160. Last year, it was 280 hungry bellies she filled with food. This year it was 150 people that needed food. 

“I went out there, and I just fed them,” she says.

“It was babies and little children,” says the restauranteur. “It wasn’t just parents, it was children as well.”

Marshall says her own upbringing was filled with similar memories. Her parents were alcoholics, and she and her brother would often "dumpster-dive" looking for clothes to wear. 

“We never had much, my brother and I,” she says while explaining why she started to feed the hungry.

“I didn’t want to be that person that had nothing and then gave nothing back.” 

So, Marshall says she would prepare chicken parmesan with spaghetti, or ham, or ground steak dinner with a roll and dessert for the hungry who showed up. One day she would prepare and serve 40 meals, and then another day 30, and so on until she had fed as many people as needed feeding.

These weren’t the only meals she prepared. 

Marshall was approached by businesses that were interested in paying for meals to be prepared and then distributed through local churches and food banks. Marshall fed over 200 people through these efforts. 

The Small Town Diner has also helped raise funds for both Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Simcoe and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

“I’ve sponsored three children in the last three years through Big Brother Big Sisters,” says Marshall, who also provided a free turkey dinner with donations going to BBBS North Simcoe and a local women’s shelter.

She has also provided gift certificates to the OSPCA for their fundraising events, and helped the organization raise more than $10,000 in their last fundraising push. 

She also continued to accept food and clothing donations on behalf of the women’s shelter that she then delivered.

Of her motivation to provide so much nourishment for others all while starting her own business and literally doing it all, Marshall simply says she wanted to help.

“I just wanted to give something to other people.”