Something for Everyone: A Hot Springs Restaurant that Nourishes the Soul!


The Smoky Mountain Diner Welcomes You

Smoky Mountain Diner is a true gem among Hot Springs restaurants. This sounds obvious when you think of the place: a restaurant almost always packed and with a menu that truly has something for everyone. However, as I sat down with owner Genia Peterson recently, I got a more vividly painted picture of how and what – aside from the food – has earned the diner its place near and dear to so many who live here or even to those who are just passing through. I met with Genia early in the fall on a sunny, breezy morning. We sat out at the picnic table outside this little Hot Springs restaurant and I was recording our chat with my phone. It stands out in my mind because I wished I had gotten a picture also as the sun was shining on her and the bright white Christian flag hanging out front. As her story unfolded, it just became more fitting, as so much of her life’s work is the result of her deep commitment to her faith. It is beautiful and inspiring to talk with someone with such dedication and devotion. This isn’t something she overtly claims, but it’s evident in how she lives her life and treats everyone around her.

How the Diner Came to Be…


Podium at the Diner

The diner came to be 30 years ago, while Genia was on a cruise with her friends Sally and Clarence Loflin and their daughters who were around the same age. She was shocked while on their trip when they asked her if she would want to run the diner. Up until that point, she had a career in hospice care/home health. She had zero restaurant experience- but she decided to give it a try. Initially the agreement was a 3-month trial. As the new kid on the block, she would come in at 2 am, just to be sure she could get everything opened in time, the way it all needed to be set up. As she put it, I mean, I’d made 15 biscuits at once–but 100?? Who makes one hundred biscuits!?

Genia, her Dad, and a family friend in front under the old diner sign

At the end of the 3 months, they asked if she wanted to buy this little Hot Springs restaurant. What strikes me in this part of the story is how brave she was to make this decision. Having only 3 months’ experience in restaurants and no clear path of where the money was going to come from, she and her family sold whatever they could for the down payment, prayed and just made it happen with lots of determination and hard work. She beams as she talks about her dad, and his love for the diner. For 20 years they were open 365 days/year. One of his very favorite days there was Christmas, when the older locals would come for breakfast and then stay on for lunch, visiting, until Genia and the family went home for their Christmas at the end of the day. Such a warm and kind gathering to create for folks.

With much of my own background being in restaurants, we talked about the importance of and how hard it can be to find a solid team. Any time you spend at the diner will confirm Genia’s success at this feat. It runs like a well-oiled machine, with servers finishing each other’s thoughts on their way to whatever their next multitask may be. Even with an expansive menu and a typically large number of folks seated, the food seems to effortlessly fly out of the kitchen – a continued testament to the wonderful place Genia, her family and her chosen family of staff have created. With the same sparkle and pride in her eye when she speaks of her father, she talks about her team, their hard work and goes on to add what a big help her daughter and son-in-law are these days- after quite literally decades of her wearing all the hats, from dishwasher to plumber, to cook, to waitress.

The Diner Gives Back to the Community


Genia Peterson featured in Our State magazine

Before she runs off to cook after our talk, she shares with me two wonderful community outreaches that she spearheads with her little Hot Springs restaurant. It was news to me to learn that every Thursday (minus Thanksgiving Day, when they feed up to 300 people!!!), the diner offers hot meals for the homebound in our community. If you are not able to get to the senior meal site, they partner with the Lion’s Club and will deliver to your home. The selection changes weekly and is always a hot meal. The week we spoke they were serving biscuits & gravy, cinnamon apples and country ham. She beams as she says we are so blessed, and this is a way we can give back a little. Currently, they make and donate around 40 weekly meals for this effort.

The other program she mentions is Kids for Christ. This group has been in action over 10 years. When I ask if this is via her church, she is quick to say it is non-denominational and they welcome any and all kids – because they need to learn at a young age to have a giving heart. Prior to COVID-19 they had as many as 50 kids involved! They share some meals and do some devotional work but mainly are active within the older community doing things like stacking wood, pulling weeds, making milkshakes for the folks at the nursing home, singing to them, and sometimes buying elders firewood, heating oil or food. They pick different community needs and make a goal of how to meet them. Their goal last month was to raise $500 for Abiding Hope, which assists young mothers with the costs that come with giving birth. Kids for Christ most often meet on Saturday evenings after the diner closes. They have a van for pick up. If you’d like your kiddo to be involved with this wonderful group, or if you would like to be on the Thursday meal site list, call the diner and they’ll get you set up. 828-622-7571

The Smoky Mountain Diner Today


Appalachian Trail mural painted by Brian Boles

These days, the diner has shifted gears in some ways. The restaurant closes Sundays, which Genia said the Lord had been working on her to do. And they’re already thinking about new menu items gearing up for the next hiker season. Two things that really stand out to me about her after hearing the story of the diner and having seen Genia’s countless community efforts over the years are her genuine kindness and her efforts to fill quite literally whatever need that arises. These traits seem to weave their way through all of her actions and with the help of many, she has created a place that is imbued with those same qualities. I mentioned to a friend that I was going to sit down with Genia for an interview and she quickly said, “She’s like the Dolly Parton of Hot Springs!” I couldn’t agree more. We are lucky to have such a bright light and wonderful restaurant in our little Hot Springs community.


– Article by Wendy Stancil, November 2023