It's not just the food, it's the "experience," that brings people back to The Diner in Croton again and again.

It's not just the food, it's the "experience," that brings people back to The Diner in Croton again and again.

That experience may be a different thing on different days.

Perhaps it's a scale model carousel churning out an old-time melody, or the scent of fresh-baked rolls wafting from the kitchen. It could be a burst of laughter from the regulars at the counter, or the sound of owner Kathy Miley and her friend/cook Mike Shelton conducting a loud but good-natured argument across the diner.

"This is the comfortable, homey atmosphere you expect from a small town diner," Miley says with a casual shrug.

An ophthalmological tech and surgical scrub for 30 years, Miley says she enjoys the diner every bit as much as her customers do.

"I was tired of an office, of that formal-ness of getting up and putting on pantyhose every day," she said.

In response, Miley began doing some local bookkeeping from her School Lane Road home a few years ago - including the books for the diner's former owner.

When it came time to buy it, Miley said the decision "just made sense."

She opened last January. Over the past year, The Diner has been completely re-decorated. Miley purchased new tables and chairs and new kitchen equipment.

Meanwhile, The Diner's menu remains "definitely country." A daily special of eggs, meat, potato and toast is most popular for breakfast, Miley said, though fried mush is a favorite that also adds a rare twist. Homemade cinnamon rolls are often available, too.

Lunch is varied, with homemade noodles and chicken or beef featured every Thursday. The Diner is open weekdays 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. It re-opens Friday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. for All-You-Can-Eat Fish and revolving specials like pork loin, honey baked chicken, liver and onions and, in warmer weather, grilled steaks and ribs.

"I think Croton's becoming more a destination now," Miley said, referring to the quality of local businesses around the town square. She said she loves knowing most of the people who walk in the door, and also enjoys welcoming unfamiliar guests.

"People in this community are very supportive," she said. "They notice if you make an effort, and they appreciate it."

Part of Miley's effort includes framed copies of historic photos of Croton on the freshly painted walls.

She has also moved hand-made creations by her late father, Robert Miley, from the historical society museum in Marion. The collection includes the colorful carousel, a scale model of one from New Philadelphia, Ohio, that Robert Miley carved and engineered over a period of years. The working model, complete with lights, music and dozens of intricately carved traditional carousel animals moving up and down on tiny poles, captures the imagination of customers of all ages, Miley said.

Those customers can also enjoy a scale-model Civil War era locomotive, stage coach and historic fire pumper also made by the owner's father. Antique telephones are on display, as well.

Changes to The Diner, and its new ownership, have earned it a spot on this year's Croton Christmas Celebration Tour of Homes, to be held during the afternoon on Sunday, Dec. 7.