Silver Diner restaurants have been popular in our area since they first opened in Rockville back in 1989. They now have 14 local locations, including – thankfully! – one on Greenbelt Road.
See, because of the company’s emphasis on local sourcing and healthy food, I’d long been a fan but had never lived close enough to a Silver Diner to be a regular – until now.
So as a regular, I wanted to know more about the Greenbelt location and sat down with Greenbelt manager Sam Jackson, shown above, to pepper him with questions. You may recognize Sam thanks to his 10 years at this location.
One of the company’s most successful locations, the 186-seat Greenbelt restaurant opened in 2004 and employs 84 people, many of them students at the University of Maryland. Some high school students also work there but as hosts and other non-serving jobs, because of the state’s minimum age of 18 to serve beer and wine.
Next I asked about the company’s local sourcing – anything nearby? The most local is Uptown Bakers in Hyattsville, but sources can be as far away as the farms of Pennsylvania and the coffee roaster in Charlottesville, as long as they’re within 400 miles of the DC area.
Jackson does quite a bit of local marketing, especially to the U.MD. campus with its 46,000 people, but to local churches, as well. He attends career days at local schools, and tells me that helping local schools is the company’s primary form of community service.
Eat Well Do Well, is Silver Diner’s top fund-raising project, through which it raises money for nutrition classes, fitness equipment, vegetable gardens and other health-promoting projects at elementary schools like Greenbelt, Hollywood, Springhill Lake, University Park, and the local French immersion school.
How it works is that customers register their purchases with an app and earn points toward savings for themselves and donations to schools. They can also earn points for posting photos of meals at the Diner to social media – pretty savvy!
So far, the company has raised over $675,000 for nutrition and fitness programs at local schools.
The Silver Diner’s Kids Menu is another part of their healthy kids initiative. Meals are served with fruit or a vegetable, and milk or juice, sodas and fries having been removed from the menu. And the menu includes 20 “Kids Live Well” items, more than any other restaurant in the U.S., Jackson tells me.
And fun fact – those 20 menu items were chosen by actual kids, meeting for a taste-testing with Silver Diner’s co-founder and Chef Ype Von Hengst. Much to their parents’ surprise, some seemingly adult items, like salmon, were among the kids’ favorites.
Another fun kids event I learned about is Kids Night, every Tuesday night from 5 to 8. There’s outside entertainment, plus arts and crafts fun provided by the very popular Miss Brenda. It’s open to the general public.
Sam Jackson, a first-generation Indian-American, grew up in Takoma Park. While studying computer programming he held management jobs in fast-food but migrated to Silver Diner in 1997 as a server before being promoted to management. Jackson is the father of two kids, ages 8 and 5.
Here in the DC area we can always claim Silver Diner as locally owned, but with success comes expansion, probably nationwide as a franchise. And they won’t all look like Greenbelt’s “classic” location, either. Locations like Bethesda are getting the new upscale version, called “Silver,” and the company’s new airport version at BWI will be replicated who knows where. Being able to get healthy, tasty food at airports is small compensation for the horrors of air travel these days, but I’m happy to have it.