MINNEAPOLIS – Own a shoe box of a restaurant and you get accustomed to operating on a shoestring.

But Brad Ptacek never knew how many friends he had until it appeared the lid might come down on the historic Band Box Diner.

"Sometimes you need a little motivation, a push," says the Band Box's owner.

Ptacek got just the push he needed when his 30-year-old grill gave out a few weeks ago and customers, old and new, stepped up to buy him a new one.

"He cried," says Ptacek's daughter Bailey Jimenez, who launched an online fundraiser to pay for the grill.

In just a few days, donors kicked in more than $5,000.

"He really didn't know what to do or say," Jimenez says. "He's just like, 'I can't believe it, people care.'" Jimenez smiles broadly, "Yeah dad, people care."

Ptacek has long been accustomed to scraping nickels together. He was broke in 1999 when he offered to buy Minneapolis' oldest diner, then worked for the previous owner for tips and a stake in the business.

Built in 1939, the little diner at the edge of downtown was the first in a chain of 14 Band Boxes that popped up around Minneapolis. Today it's the only one left, expanded to seat 28 people, but still a mite in candy cane colors in the shadows of skyscrapers.

"I'm going to support it to the end," Pierre Moore says as he visits with a friend at the Band Box counter.

Out back in the alley sits the broken old grille, while Ptacek flips omelets and burgers on the new $8,000 cooktop donations helped purchase.

Jimenez pauses between the tables she's waitressing to scroll on her smartphone through comments posted with the donations. "I love you too much to let you go," reads one. "Cook on, never stop," says another.

"It's like they covered up the hole that we had dug and they planted flowers on top," Jimenez says.

Turns out the shoe box on a shoestring has more friends than it can hold.