Monday, November 29, 2021
Nov. 29, 2021

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The Diner Vancouver reopens – ‘It’s like a family here’

By , Columbian staff writer
11 Photos
Nicole Kluka serves breakfast to Brian and Leah Trudell at The Diner Vancouver. As fans of diners and midcentury style, the Trudells were excited for their first visit.
Nicole Kluka serves breakfast to Brian and Leah Trudell at The Diner Vancouver. As fans of diners and midcentury style, the Trudells were excited for their first visit. (Elayna Yussen for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

“It’s always happy here,” Jamie Warren said over French toast at The Diner Vancouver.

Why wouldn’t it be? The traditional breakfast is perfect, Jean Hyams said. The potatoes are scrumptious, Barney Adler said. The salmon Benedict is heavenly, Gina Stewart said — and the strawberry mimosa puts just the right spin on a Saturday morning.

Good food isn’t the only reason people are returning to the midtown breakfast-and-lunch nook with the funny green logo that looks a little like a Star Trek insignia. It’s also the people, the atmosphere, the mission.

The Diner Vancouver was launched by Meals on Wheels People after that nonprofit agency closed its sparsely attended dining room in the Firstenburg Community Center. A real restaurant that welcomes a wider variety of customers — while still providing a traditional, healthy Meals on Wheels menu for seniors who qualify — seemed like a more viable business model, according to Renata Wilson, Meals on Wheels People’s chief operating officer.

It also seemed like a way to foster the social interactions that lonely seniors need, said diner manager Jerri Schneider, who strives to greet every party as they walk in the door, and to thank them on their way back out.

“It’s like a family here,” she said.

The Diner Vancouver launched at 5303 E. Mill Plain, in a building that has housed several Chinese restaurants. It did strong business and became a favorite eatery for many seniors as well as local neighbors, Schneider said, until the coronavirus pandemic forced its closure in March 2020. Needy seniors have continued getting home food deliveries in the meantime, she said.

Reopened in April 2021, the diner immediately ran into the same staffing and supply issues as the rest of the recovering economy, Wilson said. Schneider was known to sub in as line cook when there was nobody else to do it, she said.

Six weeks ago, Wilson said, staffing and supply issues forced the place to shut down again. It reopened just last week. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays.

“We couldn’t find the cooks; we couldn’t find the servers,” said Wilson, adding that Meals on Wheels People staff were running to different meal sites in the region for a while, to make sure they stayed afloat. “Everybody was doing everything for about four months, and everyone got exhausted.”

Many staffers quit, Wilson said. But server Isabella Suckling came back for more.

“I love being part of this,” Suckling said from behind the counter. “I love what it’s for, the Meals on Wheels mission. People are friendly. It’s the best place I’ve ever worked.”

Vancouver newcomers Linda and Karla Mason-Cohen discovered The Diner Vancouver by accident, they said, and keep coming back.

“Best cream biscuits I’ve ever had in my entire life,” said Linda. Good vegan breakfast options too, Karla added.

The Mason-Cohens also dig the stylish room, which neatly combines that Space Age, lime-green logo with “mid-century mod” trimmings and a pleasantly open feel, Karla pointed out.

“You feel like you’re on ‘The Jetsons,’” Jamie Warren said with a chuckle.

Years ago, Hyams divulged what she really desired for Mother’s Day: weekly breakfast with her daughter and granddaughter. The trio — grandma Jean Hymas, mom Jamie Warren and daughter Gina Stewart — tried several restaurants before settling on The Diner as their favorite spot.

Saddened when the place shut down, they were eager to return, they said.

“I am so impressed by this place,” said Hyams.

“The service is good, and the prices are fine,” said Barney Adler, who spent decades working in retail and knows his stuff, he said.

“I used to be in business,” he said. “The quality of the help is an issue for me. They do it right here.”

Now that The Diner has reopened, Adler said, he expects to be back “at least once per weekend.”

“I love the potatoes,” he said. “They’re the kind Mom used to make.”