Polished Silver

At Silver Diner, Chef Ype Von Hengst gives plenty of healthy dining options, noting, “What people eat is their choice, but it’s my choice what I put on the menu.”
At Silver Diner, Chef Ype Von Hengst gives plenty of healthy dining options, noting, “What people eat is their choice, but it’s my choice what I put on the menu.”

On a mission to help its guests eat healthier, the Silver Diner has transformed its menu, increased annual sales by 45 percent over the last seven years, and opened an upscale American brasserie.

Emerging Chains Report
Silver Diner
Opened: 1989, Rockville, Maryland
Co-Founders: Bob Giaimo, president and CEO, Ype Von Hengst, executive chef
Locations: 14 in Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey
Average check: $14
AUV: $3.5 to $4 million, two locations at $8 million each
Opened New Concept: Silver in Bethesda, Maryland, in September 2015

“We have a moral obligation to change the way America eats,” asserts Chef Ype Von Hengst, co-owner of Silver Diner, as he passionately seeks to inspire like-minded chefs and restaurateurs around the country. He speaks from the vantage point of one who has transformed the traditional menu of a classic American diner into a contemporary phenomenon, where healthy options dominate and fresh, local ingredients reign supreme. Chef Von Hengst talks with FSR about what it takes to effect positive change, and the positive momentum that led to annual unit volumes between $3.5 million and $8 million (in a restaurant where the average check crests at $14) as well as the creation of a new concept that extends the brand into an upscale-polished arena.

That’s a dramatic call to action you’ve issued for the industry—can you elaborate?

We have so much obesity in the U.S., and so many foods are ill-prepared and filled with chemicals—I feel it is my moral obligation to change this and it should be all of ours.

If you have one restaurant it is almost expected that you do farm-to-table and local [sourcing] and have healthier options, but it’s a poor excuse to say, “We have multiple locations, so we can’t do it.” That’s just b.s. Multi-unit restaurants just have to work harder at it and make it happen.

When did you begin to make it happen, that transition at Silver Diner to serve healthier options?

It was around 2008, and we were the first in D.C., maybe one of the first in the U.S., to do zero trans fats. We had 12 locations then, and of course the economy was going down and we saw casual restaurants like Panera Bread taking away chunks of business.

Also, our customers were starting to change: The Baby Boomers are getting older and starting to retire, and as a restaurateur you have to keep in touch with your public. You have to create food that will attract the next generation as well as your current guests. What was good yesterday is not necessarily good tomorrow. When the world changes in the way that people eat, then we as chefs and restaurateurs have the obligation to work with that, and actually set the tone.

That’s what Bob Giaimo, my business partner, and I have done. That’s why, after 27 years [Silver Diner opened in 1989], we have gotten a 45 percent increase in sales over the last seven years. And, our dinner sales have gone up 20 percent—that is because we keep reinventing ourselves. It’s because we stay current, but we don’t go trendy. I hate the word trendy. We stay current and we lead the way America should eat.

If you stay in touch with your guest, in touch with what’s going on in the industry, and you provide the right products, then people will keep coming. When the economy was faltering, we started seeing a decline in our business, and we realized young families were going other places. That’s when we transitioned the menu to farm to table, with fresh and local ingredients.



Bob and Ype, congrats on your success. I agree with your new outlook on eating habits and how well it's been received!


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