Silver Diner, a restaurant chain serving Virginia and Maryland, recently decided to offer “fresh and local” food. When I heard this I excitedly ventured out to our closest diner with a group of colleagues. We were ready for some good old fashioned home cooking and jukebox heroes (yes they do have them!). Trouble was not far away though…
The first thing one notices at the new Silver Diner are the advertisements all over the diner for the new local food. The host and server make sure to mention it. The menus is similarly plastered with the words local, fresh, farm. The marketing was a little over the top but at least it got the job done.
The next step was looking into the food. Are they really committing to this or just jumping on the local bandwagon (like Harris Teeter is doing). They appear to be doing both.
The food is local, fresh, and from the farm. They are buying local wine and coffee from a local roaster. These are amazing steps that contribute greatly to local business and can even spur these local industries to greater heights. I think it is important to recognize these steps and even say “thank you”.
Thank you Silver Diner for committing to local, fresh, and farm to table.
With that being said here are some points to improve upon. Transparency is sorely lacking. The menu is more marketing than information. I was forced to ask the server for more details (which she barely knew). Of the two farms listed both were in Pennsylvania, which seems not local at all since farms and cooperatives exist in Virginia and Maryland offering meat, eggs, and dairy. The farms they do mention have only basic websites and do not even list certifications like organic or certified naturally grown.
I was forced to google for information and found that one of them was linked to being a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). I didn’t want to believe that Silver Diner could have overlooked this huge problem but found that the farm in question lists on its website a herd of 2,000 cows in a gigantic indoor facility, a sort of half-CAFO. Without more information and more transparency, what am I to think of this?
Further, the main reason I would continue coming back is for the vegetables and fruits. The menu and the website only state “produce from local farms”. A method to fix this, since produce is perishable and seasonal, is to list the farms that you regularly buy from or an extra menu listing farm, season, and offerings (provided upon request).
Another issue is standards. Just what are you committing to? The local roaster, Arlington based Greenberry, does not seem to believe in Fair Trade, which is a way to ensure that coffee farmers are not being exploited as cheap labor. If you’re going to offer hormone free meat, then why no offer antibiotic free as well? Also, no mention is made of organic or certified naturally grown, or any other standard that covers pesticide use?
Overall I am impressed by the moves Silver Diner has made. They are good first steps and probably necessary to build local food relationships. It does takes time to establish the operations of delivery and scheduling in bulk quantities. If they can continue their new efforts and build on them I will definitely be a frequent customer.