Diners Increase Business with Healthy Food

19 August, 2014

Restaurants called "diners" can be found throughout the United States. They make simple, low-cost food. But traditional diner food is often unhealthy.

One group of diners is cooking healthier food for their customers and, surprisingly, they love it.

There are many people waiting for their meal at the Silver Diner in Waldorf, Maryland. Among them are Ashley Holt and Norman Bailey, who eat there often.

Diners Increase Business with Healthy Food
Founders Chef Ype Von Hengst (right) and Robert Giaimo during construction of the first Silver Diner in 1989. (Courtesy of Silver Diner)

"I like the food. It's fresh, it's good. I would come here more often especially because it's a lot healthier."

"Great atmosphere, quick service and great food!"

Ype Von Hengst and Bob Giaimo established Silver Diner 25 years ago.

The two men visited diners throughout the country to learn how their restaurant could be different. Ype Von Hengst explains.

"We wanted to create an atmosphere where the new families wanted to go with their kids and (have) not just a great atmosphere but also better food and cleaner food."

So they decided to offer healthier versions of traditional diner food, like pancakes, hamburgers and meatloaf. They used less processed materials, like unbleached flour. They use meat from animals that were not treated with antibiotics or hormones.

Business slowed during the recession. So Chef Ype von Hengst added more healthy food choices to try to bring people to his diners.

"And we started preparing healthier, local food, fresh food, vegan, vegetarian, giving people the lifestyle and the options that they want nowadays."

The men have partnered with more than 15 local farms to supply them with food. And they discovered the farm-fresh food was good for business.

"I also feel really that it's my moral obligation that I need to provide a better product for people and when I did, surprisingly, and somehow not surprisingly, we noticed that, you know, the volume start(ed) coming back and over the last three years we have gone up by 30% in customer count, which is phenomenal."

On a warm, sunny day, Chef Ype von Hengst picks zucchini and yellow squash with farmer Chris Parker. His family farm has been selling vegetables to Silver Diner restaurants for years.

"If we could get all the restaurants in Washington, DC to commit to local produce, it would be a great thing for our business."

Chef Ype von Hengst says selling farm-fresh food is important to his business.

"This is not a fad. This is here to stay. People are going to want healthier food. They're going to want better food. If you don't jump on this, you're going to be out of business."

There are 15 Silver Diners -- almost all in the Washington, DC area. A total of 10,000 people eat at the restaurants every week.

"This is my passion. If you don't, if you don't have a passion for what you are doing, you really need to get out of it."

This story was reported by VOA reporter Julie Taboh in Waldorf, Maryland. It was adapted into Special English by Christopher Cruise, who also narrated the report. It was edited by Caty Weaver.


Words in the News

diner - n. a small, informal and inexpensive restaurant that traditionally looks like a railroad car; a person who is earing dinner at a restaurant.

healthn. the general condition of the body and mind; the condition of being free from sickness or disease

cookv. to heat food before eating it

visitv. to go to or come to a place for a short time for friendly or business reasons

sellv. to give something in exchange for money

restaurantn. a place where people can buy and eat meals