Sarah Barth holds the 2,000th owl that recently joined the ever-growing flock of feathered friends on display at her diner in Canton. 
Sarah Barth holds the 2,000th owl that recently joined the ever-growing flock of feathered friends on display at her diner in Canton. CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER

When one walks into Sarah’s Diner on U.S. 52 just west of Canton, several things immediately grab your attention. The eating establishment is squeaky clean and bright, and about 4,000 eyes are staring at you. No, they aren’t the eyes of 2,000 customers…but the eyes of 2,000 owls.

There are coffee mugs with owls on them, countless owl figurines, owl cookie jars, owl clocks, owl wall hangings, paintings of owls, owl mobiles hanging from the ceiling, owl planters with greenery sprouting from them and even table cloths with jolly fat owls.

Proprietor Sarah Barth reported that the 2,000th owl had made its home at her diner last week.

“Marlene Wisland brought this one in the other day,” Barth said, holding up a ceramic owl with golden eyes. “She said she brought it around Christmas time and decided it was just too ugly. She knows how much I love owls and gave it to me. This owl is number 2,000,” she said with a big smile.

While it seems somewhat incredible that there could be that many owls at Sarah’s Diner, this writer decided to take her word for it instead of searching high and low throughout the establishment in an effort to inventory her massive flock of strigiformes (the scientific order of owls).

But just how did Barth acquire so many owls?

“About 30 years ago, my mother and father gave me a set of owl lamps,” Barth recalled. “I guess I’d always loved owls, but these were the first that I actually had. So I bought a couple figurines, liked those and things kind of snowballed.”

Barth’s collection grew rapidly and she soon had nearly 900 owls on the shelves, walls, tables and window ledges of her home.

Barth had spent many years working at various dining establishments in the Canton, Mabel, Burr Oak and Preston areas. When the restaurant near Canton became available to lease in August of 2014, Barth decided to give it a try. She didn’t bring her entire owl collection to decorate her new business, however, just a handful.

“Customers saw the few owl displays I had here and asked me if I was into owls. When I told them that I loved owls, they started bringing them in.”

The more owls that customers brought in, the more the interest in Barth’s collection grew. An owl salt and pepper shaker, a set of owl coffee cups, an owl clock, a sugar bowl decorated with owls, the collection grew by leaps and bounds. Barth’s owl collection was not only a fun way to decorate her diner, but it also proved to be quite a conversation piece as well.

“People who passed through here from time to time would check to see if I had added any owls to the collection,” Barth noted. She had one couple from the Twin Cities, who loved to visit Bluff Country. They so enjoyed the collection and wanted to add something to it. So the man had his mother, who lives in the Czech Republic, crochet a wall hanging of an owl. It is framed in old barn wood and adorns one of the walls in the dining area.

Barth feels the decision to jump into the proprietorship aspect of the dining industry was a good one. Although she’s the only full-time employee (with five part-time staffers) and the diner is open nearly 365 days a year, it has been very rewarding.

Sarah’s Diner is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 to 1 on Saturday and Sunday. They have different noon specials each day, with cream chicken for Ramona Hudson and fish on Fridays. The other days of the week are chef’s choice.

Every Thursday the Canton Lunch Bunch dines at Sarah’s. They are a group of Canton-area women who get together on a weekly basis to dine and do some socializing. The group ranges from nine to a dozen ladies and they are always looking for more to join the group.

Business varies from day to day, at times predicated on what Mother Nature throws at the area. A slow day may only see 30 or 40 meals being served and on a busy day, it might reach 100 meals.

“That is the hardest thing to know,” Barth said. “It’s hard to know how much help or how much food to have on hand when it can fluctuate 50 meals from one day to the next. Saturdays and Sundays are usually our busiest days and then when they have the hay sales in the winter, we get a large crowd.”

Getting up every morning long before the rooster crows is something Barth has gotten used to. She pointed out that she just doesn’t arrive at the diner 10 minutes to seven and open up. She’s usually there by 6 a.m. “It does take a lot of preparation to get ready for the breakfast and dinner crowds.

“I love working with the people,” Barth said. “We have our regulars who come here every morning, or every noon. If they don’t stop by, we call friends or relatives to make sure nothing has happened to them. We’re all a big family here.”