ROCKVILLE In early 1989, Jewel Baxter, then in her mid-fifties, was in need of a new job. She had worked for several years as a hostess in a French restaurant and thought to follow up on the “help wanted” signs at the newly constructed Silver Diner on Rockville Pike.
“There were all these pretty teenage girls applying, I didn’t think I had a chance,” Baxter said. But she was one of the new restaurant’s first hires. 25 years later, Silver Diner is a successful chain with locations throughout Maryland and Virginia and one in New Jersey. Baxter still works as a hostess at the flagship Rockville location, greeting and trading jokes with regular guests as she escorts them to their tables, always taking care to be fair in her seating.
“There are servers on the shift I’ve known for years, and others who started last month, but it doesn’t matter,” Baxter said, “It’s your turn to get sat when it’s your turn to get sat.” The diner has many other longtime employees, many of whom have advanced in the company, including the Rockville store’s current operating partner, Omar Martinez, who was first hired as a dishwasher in his teens.
With an architectural design reminiscent of the greasy spoon diners and malt shops of the 1950s, Silver Diner has become one of the most recognizable landmarks on Rockville Pike. This theme has continued inside, with a long counter with swivel chairs, images of classic Americana painted on the walls, and a jukebox at every table. When the diner moved from its longtime home in Mid-Pike Plaza to Federal Plaza in 2010, this design was retained.
But while the diner’s initial appeal owed much to nostalgia, its management today is focused on the future. This week, the diner released the latest iteration of its menu, featuring certain items, such as grilled Maine salmon and teriyaki-glazed portabellas, which seem incongruous with a traditional diner concept. On the menu’s cover is the image of the man responsible for its contents, Executive Chef Ype Von Hengst.
Von Hengst, who co-founded the diner with its President and CEO Bob Giaimo, has worked for many years to make the diner’s offerings appealing to health-conscious patrons. The menu boasts of his partnerships with local farms and features several gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options.
“The key is that you keep reinventing yourself, you never stand still,” Von Hengst said. “You can’t just serve hamburgers and fries if you want to stick around. You have to have healthier options. Of course, we still serve meatloaf, but my meatloaf is made from Black Angus.”
Von Hengst’s creations have earned numerous accolades, including a 2013 award for Best Healthful Innovations from MenuMasters for the diner’s healthier kids menu.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, this May, Silver Diner will hold a contest in which patrons are invited to share their favorite memories of the restaurant. The grand prize will be a year’s worth of free food, awarded in the form of 52 $25 gift cards. For more information, vist www.silverdiner.com