Get it while you can...
While an omelette I ordered was being prepared back in the kitchen, I speak with Barbara, who greets customers and handles the money simultaneously. She tells me she has been working at the diner for 40 years and seems to know everyone. What this blogger likes about The Forest Diner is its down-to-earth authenticity and the high-spirited friendliness of the staff. It's real... Above: Mary is pouring another me cup of coffee after smiling and asking: "A re-fill?"
I asked Barbara a few questions, designed to keep it simple so she could be attentive to the stream of customers who wanted to talk with her. She offered, "There is a mystique to diners, you know. For instance, WE are a diner, but next door is a restaurant (looks like a diner, but is modern). There's a difference!" Here, Barbara and Mary are discussing the days's business.
Brief History of the Forest Diner. The italicized type is excerpted from a well-crafted article that appeared in The Howard County Times by Jennifer Choi and Derek Simmonsen <3.09>: The Forest Diner began life in 1946 when original owner Bob Gearhart opened a 40-seat dining car that he named after himself--Gearhart's Diner. The restaurant traded hands in 1957 when it was bought by William Carl Childress. He owned the diner for 41 years...and the Childress family also owned the motel until it closed in the mid-1990s.
The current owner, Will Reich, has owned the diner for 12 years. There is much more to that story, but back to the food! Mary soon brought my huge platter of eggs, potatoes and toast and I ate, taking small breaks to take more photographs of the interior. This
model of a diner was on the table.
Barbara told me that the most popular order for dinner is their chicken. "It has to be the best around," she added. "No surprise!" Then, for breakfast, she told me, it's the omelettes and breakfast burritos. It wasn't until I started to gather up my things on the table and leave that a man in the booth in front of me said, "Yeah, you'd better enjoy the diner because it's going to close in four years." I was astonished, but Barbara confirmed it. Then, my online research found the Howard County Times article, which fleshed out the missing information--missing from my understanding, I mean. I usually know most of what is going on in Ellicott City Historic District in terms of new construction, or infill. Or try to anyway...
The News: The Forest Diner has, in fact, been sold to developer, Michael Weal, whose family has owned the nearby Forest Motel since the 1960s. "The motel, diner, and two homes behind them will be replaced by an office and retail complex..."
The good news-- good for awhile--for staff and customers, is that Reich, the current owner, sold with the condition that he could rent the property back for 5 years. The clock is ticking...Now, it's four years, so best to make the drive up Route 40 and enjoy this piece of history...soon.
The Forest Diner is on Route 40, across from what used to be The Enchanted Forest. Phone number 410-465-5395. It looks like this (above).
Blog content and photos: Kay Weeks