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The Next Generation

McLean’s Restaurant launches dinner service for the first time in 30 years.


McLean’s Restaurant serves simple, country-style fare in an unfussy environment; the servers are sweet, the service is quick, and the prices are low. We would say the diner is tried and true, which it is, technically, but there’s something about the pithy axiom that glosses over the true effort of those trying.

McLean’s has been serving breakfast and lunch on West Broad for 58 years—that’s equivalent to a millennium in this industry—and owner Dionna Kelleher has been an integral part of the restaurant since the early 1980s.

Kelleher made things official in ‘88, when, upon her urging, parents Fred and Sheila Wagner bought the restaurant from owners Hyde and Pat Ingram. At the time, Kelleher was a server, working late-night shifts when she wasn’t in school. Kelleher would go on to buy the business from her parents in 2008 after managing McLean’s for 10 years.

Kelleher is not a business owner who sits nonchalantly in her ivory tower. You can bet your bottom dollar you’ll see the petite, Bristol, Virginia native flitting around the busy floor Saturday and Sunday mornings.

She’s all smiles, directing patrons new and old to the hostess stand where her teen daughter, Jade, waits with menus. Or she’ll gesture to the bar, where diners can grab a swivel-stool and a mimosa from Kelleher’s older daughter, Miranda, who is only here on the weekends.

It’s a family affair, and the Kellehers, by all appearances, seem to have avoided the pitfalls of mixing business with blood.

Now, after more than three decades of dedication to this beloved greasy spoon, Kelleher is ready to pass the torch.

“I started working for the restaurant in 2011 at 14 years old,” says Kelleher’s son and current McLean’s manager Trent Kelleher. From bussing tables to helping on the line, Trent has immersed himself in every aspect of the restaurant. It only made sense that he would grow into a leadership role.

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The Randolph-Macon grad says he always used McLean’s as a case study for his business management projects. “As my experience grew, so did my passion for the industry.”

When Trent graduated from college in 2020, he started taking on more managerial duties at the restaurant. “This allowed my mom to take a very well-deserved break,” he says.

Her son’s experience, passion and bright-eyed youth make him well equipped for the newest responsibility he’s about to take on—launching dinner service at McLean’s for the first time in 30 years.

“I thought, ‘I have the day shift under control, why not do a night shift?’” says Trent, his mother nodding encouragingly as he explains his vision.

The Kellehers have a fine-tuned formula, which Trent plans to replicate during dinner service. It’s not rocket science, of course, to serve up a breakfast platter. But there is certainly an art to whipping up dozens of orders of perfectly cooked eggs, fluffy pancakes and just-crispy-enough bacon.

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An integral part of that formula is Barry Coker, the restaurant’s longtime cook.

“We’ve been working together for 30 years at least,” says Kelleher. “I started when I was 15 working on the weekends, and he was always there. We’ve had some great kitchen folks come and go, but he’s still here.”

Coker has been busy this summer training new kitchen staff so they can take over for him during the dinner shift. “I’ll be 65 in January,” says Coker, when asked how long he plans to crank out one of the diner’s specialties, herring roe and eggs. Time to retire? “No, I’ll just do part-time.”

“Dinner will be the total same menu,” says Trent. That means you can grab a mimosa and the Biggest Breakfast in Town for under $20 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. Still hungry? The beef liver and onions and country-fried steak will both run you a cool $9.95.

They’ll introduce some weekly specials, too, nothing crazy—think a fried chicken dinner with sides like sweet potatoes and corn pudding. “We’re giving the daytime chef the choice to do what he wants,” says Kelleher. “We want to give our regulars something different to come back in for dinner.”

The interior of McLean's Restaurant, located at 3205 W. Broad St. - RYAN KELLY
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  • The interior of McLean's Restaurant, located at 3205 W. Broad St.

McLean’s has been entertaining a steady stream of regulars for years now, ranging from young families to the bleary-eyed, late morning breakfast crowd. There is a demographic they’ve been missing though.

“There are people during the day who are at work or in class and then when they get home and want to eat, we’re closed,” says Kelleher. “We want to give the folks working and living around us an opportunity to come in and enjoy the diner.”

Scott’s Addition has grown up around McLean’s just as surely as the restaurant has remained rooted in place. While you can snag a veggie platter of fried okra, lima beans and corn fritters for $9 on one side of West Broad, right across the street you can snag a luxury apartment starting at $1,600 at The Icon complex—rooftop pool included.

Surely the Kellehers could increase their prices with clientele like that a stone’s throw away. Perhaps they’d consider adding craft beers or heck, even a small cocktail list to their beverage menu.

That’s a “maybe” on the beverages, one day, says Trent. But no way on upping their prices. “We’re really trying to keep it affordable,” says Kelleher.

McLean’s has been serving breakfast and lunch on West Broad for 58 years. - RYAN KELLY
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  • McLean’s has been serving breakfast and lunch on West Broad for 58 years.

Like most businesses, they had to increase prices slightly since 2020. They offered to-go only in the early pandemic days, then switched to safely spaced dine-in service “as soon as they told us we could,” says Kelleher. “We didn’t beat around the bush. We probably dragged our feet a little too long increasing our prices, but we did, we had to.”

The restaurant was able to hold on to most of their longtime staffers through the pandemic, and Trent says that some of the diehards are going to pull daytime and night-time shifts, though he has started to assemble a new crew for nights. You can see the trainees carefully following the movements of the Kellehers, shadowing Miranda behind the counter or Trent on the floor.

McLean’s manager Trent Kelleher sits with his mom, owner Dionna Kelleher, who may soon pass the baton. - RYAN KELLY
  • Ryan Kelly
  • McLean’s manager Trent Kelleher sits with his mom, owner Dionna Kelleher, who may soon pass the baton.

The Kellehers have only ever owned one McLean’s location, the original space at 4001 W. Broad and the current 3205 W. Broad spot. But with their current momentum, it begs the question: will there be another McLean’s?

“Could be time,” says Kelleher, nudging her son. “We’ll see.”

McLean’s is open daily from 6 a.m.-3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch. Starting Tuesday, Sept. 5, they will also be open 5-9 p.m. for dinner service, offering the same daytime menu. Follow McLean’s on Instagram for updates about dinner and weekly menu specials.