I was very impressed with the service at the Silver Diner exhibit in the Garden State Discovery Museum. I saw the waiters and waitresses eagerly bringing the (pretend) food to the customers. One of the reasons I was impressed was that the whole exhibit is actually a simulation of a real diner—and the wait staff are actually the youngsters pretending to be serving food to their parents. They take orders, go into the “kitchen”, get the “food” and bring it out.
I was also impressed by the kid’s menu (since I have a toddler, this was highly relevant). The menu was labeled “Classic and Healthier Choices”. It included items such as Teriyaki Salmon or a Slider with Strawberries and a Veggie to accompany the classics such as Mac and Cheese, Grilled Cheese, and Grilled All Beef Hot Dog. The full menu was even better, with notations of fresh local produce, farm fresh local Amish eggs, Hormone Free Meats, and Multigrain Bread all over the place—again, alongside traditional diner classics.
At first, I thought that the exhibit was really cool, very subtly promoting sustainability in a fun way for kids. The Garden State Discovery Museum is all about promoting fun for kids—it has for my son. So they are more about fun than sustainability, but I thought it was a great way to educate people about various aspects of the topic. But then I realized that the Silver Diner is actually a real diner (and the sponsor of the exhibit). So we had to go there and check it out to see if the real diner was as into sustainability as the “diner” at the museum.
It absolutely is. One obvious sign was the chalkboard that noted the local bison meat specials. I never knew there were bison farms in Maryland, within a couple of hours of the diner. Another sign was the set of ubiquitous “FARM TO TABLE” tent cards in the booths. They really do try to emphasize buying fresh product from local farms—say, a 250 mile radius or so.
Silver Diner implemented its local sourcing initiative in 2010. The benefits are numerous. First, they appeal to the growing demand for locally sourced food, produced in an environmentally friendly way. Second, they can offer fresher food—for example, a tomato can go from a vine to meal in as little as 24 hours vs. up to a week in transit from the West Coast. Cow’s milk can go from the cow to the milkshake in 2 days, vs. several times that from more distant suppliers. Third, Silver Diner’s dollars provide a good source of revenue for the source farms, helping them stay in business. Even more impressive, Silver Diner can deliver meals using farm to table food at regular diner prices—so a broad population can enjoy them. For example, an omelette now costs a grand total of 50 cents more than before. That’s it.
To Silver Diner’s credit, they proudly list some of their suppliers. I happen to be familiar with one of their suppliers, Kreider Farms near Lancaster PA. They don’t use ay growth hormones, to start. They keep their cows healthy in large part by having them walk and exercise. In fact, they measure how far a cow has walked in a given day. If a cow has not walked (grazed) enough, they are not milked. Their milk and dairy products are absolutely fabulous tasting, in large part because they treat their cows so well. I remember distinctly talking to their representative at the PA Farm Show a few years ago for a full 45 minutes as he described how they produce their milk. I have since taken their tour; a highlight of which is the “cow spa” where the cows literally maneuver to have their backs scratched by a big brush after they milked.
If all of Silver Diner’s suppliers have this level of detail in producing high quality ingredients it bodes really well for the success of their sustainable menu. Another sign of the success of their menu is the reaction of my toddler son. He spent nearly an hour chomping down everything from what my wife and I had ordered that we would give him. In not-so-rapid succession, he enjoyed mac and cheese, significant parts of a roll, cucumber piece, tomato piece, and strawberries. He was as impressed with the “real” Silver Diner (Cherry Hill, NJ) as I was.