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Silver Diner: Healthful Choices Redefine the American Classic

By Lauren Jackson, Contributing Writer – Photos by Chris Lehto

Silver DinerGreasy burgers and artery-clogging desserts are practically synonymous with the American diner. However, this is not so for Silver Diner. Since 2010, the restaurant chain has been steadily creating more meals geared toward the health-conscious and people with dietary restrictions.

Judging from the crowd at Silver Diner in Dale City on Smoketown Road (near Potomac Mills Mall), the menu changes are a hit. So is the restaurant’s classic American style. Before opening the first Silver Diner in Rockville, Md., in 1989, franchise co-founders Robert Giaimo and Executive Chef Ype Von Hengst spent a year visiting hundreds of classic diner-styled restaurants across the country to incorporate into their eatery the best of what they found.

From its sparkling chrome exterior to its retro red booths inside, the restaurant transports guests to the bygone era of American diners of the 1950s. With bright lights and miniature jukeboxes at each table, it’s a setting where “The Fonz” would fit right in.

Menu  with  a  Nutritious Twist

But “The Fonz” might be confused by some items on the eatery’s new menu, which reflects customer demand for more wholesome and locally produced foods. Silver Diner updated its offerings to include gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and heart-healthy choices, according to Sergio Mendez, general manager of Dale City’s Potomac Mills Silver Diner, which he said opened 22 years ago.

“Lately, the community, the people, have been changing lifestyles,” Mendez said. “We really focus on the health  for the community.”

Like the franchise’s other eateries, the Dale City restaurant gets its meat, vegetables and other ingredients from more than 15 local farms throughout Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The foods it receives include free-range turkey, antibiotic-free beef and chicken, all-natural milk, farm-fresh eggs and fresh seasonal produce.

Mendez said he has witnessed the positive reaction from patrons at the Dale City restaurant as they discover healthful, innovative menu selections at the classic American diner, he said. “We do have wonderful feedback from our guests talking about the excitement for the new items and our healthy options,” he said.

“The best steak in a non-steak restaurant. The flat-iron steak on their new fresh organic menu was very terrific!!!” posted a Manassas resident on TripAdvisor among online reviews for Silver Diner in Dale City. “My wife and I love the new menu. Silver Diner is different from other places in variety and quality. … Will be back for the steak!!!!”

Among the most popular of the new healthful meals is “Santa Fe Roasted Veggies,” which appeals to people with gluten allergies with its tasty mix of quinoa, eggplant and other ingredients seasoned with chipotle, he said. Also popular is “Pesto Veggie Pasta,” a delectable combination of whole-wheat angel hair, butternut squash and lemony pine nut pesto with garlic roasted eggplant, roasted red pepper, spinach, basil and sunflower seeds.

Silver Diner in Dale CityMeat lovers can try new takes on old favorites, such as “Greek Lamb Sliders,” garnished with tzatziki and feta cheese.

Even the dessert menu includes healthful choices. To satisfy the sweet tooth of the health-conscious, the diner offers such treats as gluten-free “Brownie Latte” and a lactose-free, vegan chocolate- raspberry shake.

The restaurant still offers many of the old American diner specialties. “Hickory Smokehouse Cheddar Burger,” “Classic BLT” and all-day breakfast offerings provide guests with classic diner fare. But even these timeless meals take on a more healthful twist at Silver Diner. The bacon is nitrate-free, the meat is free-range  and all ingredients are fresh.

“We don’t serve any frozen products to our guests,” said Mendez. “Whatever we have is actually something that has been prepared from scratch and is fresh. We do have a lot of organic products as well.”

Focused on Helping  Kids Eat Healthy

Additionally, the franchise’s new focus on healthful eating includes helping ensure that children in the communities Silver Diner serves eat more nutritious meals. The chain’s “Kids’ Nights,” held on Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., incorporate fun activities that not only entertain, but educate and excite children about eating healthier.

As part of the franchise’s “Eat Well, Do Well” program, the diners also partner with local schools to raise funds to improve health and fitness programs at the educational systems. The Dale City Silver Diner has partnered with Dale City Elementary School, Mary Porter Traditional School in Woodbridge and Henderson Elementary School in Montclair, Mendez said.

Patrons can support Silver Diner’s “Eat Well, Do Well” program by signing up for the chain’s customer rewards card, which is also a prepaid card. Five percent of purchases made with the card is donated to a school of the diner’s choosing. Through the program, the Silver Diner franchise has donated more than $400,000 to schools since 2010, according to information about the program on the chain’s website.

Silver Diner’s steps to help children eat healthful foods have not gone unnoticed. The franchise won the 2013 MenuMasters Award for Best Healthful Innovations for its kids’ menu, which it changed so that all entrees come with a fruit or vegetable and milk or juice. French fries and soda are only available on request.

The franchise also expanded its kids’ menu to include healthful fare fitting the National Restaurant Association’s “Kids Livewell” criteria, according to Nation’s Restaurant News, which annually presents the MenuMasters Awards, sponsored by Ventura Foods, each May in Chicago.

Silver Diner is among inaugural members of the program, according to the National Restaurant Association, which launched the initiative in July 2011. This voluntary industry program promotes giving families healthful food choices for their children when dining out.

Hospitality—A Recipe for Success

Silver Diner’s mission is to provide not only the highest quality food, but also service, with a commitment that “service is always attentive, fast-paced, high energy,” according to Silver Diner’s brand statement, which cites developing a personal relationship with customers as the center of the restaurants’ hospitality. “We treat our guests just like a friend,” said Mendez. “We are here to provide a good service and good food to our guests.”

He said that this dedication to service, combined with flavorful food and a fun, throwback atmosphere, has allowed the Silver Diner franchise to flourish. Silver Diner Development, Inc., now has more than 15 eateries throughout Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. It’s reportedly the largest chain of diners in America with the highest average sales per store of its kind.

Silver Diner in Dale City is located at 14375 Smoketown Road. For more information about the new menu, children’s activities and “Eat Well, Do Well” program, visit www.silverdiner.com.

Lauren Jackson is a student at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where she is pursuing a degree in English and journalism. She lives in Prince William.  Contact her at [email protected].

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