Gleaming '50s diner rock-and-rolls to Jessup site

January 27, 1995|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

It sparkles from the midday sun, a 1950s gem reborn on a once vacant lot in Jessup.

Formerly a New Jersey cafe, now it's Frank's Diner. And it'll be one of just two authentic '50s diners in Howard County.

Workers drove the old 65-by-16-foot building 90 miles aboard a flatbed from its original home in Carneys Point, N.J., this week. During the past two days, they spent about 12 hours lifting the 75-ton diner onto its new site off U.S. 1 at Cedar Avenue.

"It's the fulfillment of the American dream," said owner Franklin Davis, 56, as he watched workers unload the diner.

Outside, the diner boasts a bright, shiny stainless steel frame -- a staple of 1950s-style diners.

Inside, the bright red seats, a colorful ceramic tile wall and oversized 4-by-8-foot windows, draped with flowered curtains, give it even more of a '50s flair. The only thing missing is a jukebox, and that, the owners say, is on its way.

"In terms of a physical facility, it's quite unique," said Richard Story, Howard County's director of economic development. "This just a wonderful project. I might be a regular customer."

Mr. Davis and his wife, Linda, of Severn have been working for two years to open the restaurant. They found it cheaper to buy an existing diner at $75,000 than to have a new one built for as much as $300,000.

A Columbia real estate agent helped them find the Olympia Diner, which two New Jersey brothers ran for three decades before it closed about 12 years ago after one brother died.

But even with the break on the cost, the couple at times wondered whether they would see their dream come true.

They had to find a place to put the old diner and a mortgage lender to help cover the remainder of the $700,000 it would take to fund the project -- everything from buying the land to getting permits to hiring an expected 55 employees.

"It's hard to find somebody to believe in you," Mrs. Davis said. "The American dream is not attainable for some people."

But yesterday it all came together when the couple finally closed the deal on a loan, while workers finished placing the diner on its new location in southeastern Howard County.

The county's other '50s diner, the Forest Diner, is in Ellicott City.

The Davises' diner seats 98. And they already have contractors working on a 30-seat addition.

It's scheduled to open April 1, with a home-style menu that includes burgers, and Frank's chicken and ribs. The barbecue sauce will be the owner's special.

The 24-hour diner also will feature an old-fashioned fountain for sundaes, ice-cream floats and malteds.

"I focused and concentrated all my efforts into opening my own diner," said Mr. Davis, who has cooked for the Army, prisons and hospitals during the past 32 years.

Mr. Davis, who has an associate's degree in food service management, has managed Denny's restaurants and was a food service manager for the Montgomery County Detention Center.

"I learned early in my military experience, if you're going to be good, you have to be good at a little bit of everything," he said.

"You can't just get bits and pieces," he added. "You have to have the whole pie."

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