A man named Matt W. Ashburn e-mailed the paper this morning, alerting us to the fact that he and his business partner have just bought a 1940s-era diner and plan to move it to their Trinidad neighborhood, where it will come to rest at the former location of a used-car lot that Mayor Fenty shut down last November.
Well, that’s enough to capture your attention.
I got Ashburn on the phone this afternoon and learned that he’s a first-time restaurateur who really just wants to give his Northeast neighborhood a “good sit-down” eatery. Ashburn, a former FBI analyst who now does contract work for another agency, is in the process of moving the old diner down from its previous perch in Avoca, a tiny burg in upstate New York.
“It’s a small town that doesn’t really have enough population to support” two different restaurants, including the diner, Ashburn tells Y&H.
Ashburn and his housemate/business partner, Patrick Carl, found the diner on eBay after Carl started mocking his roomie over his attempts to build a cheesesteak cart right in their place. Ashburn drove up to Avoca after work one day and met the diner owner’s brother-in-law in the middle of the night. “I instantly fell in love with it, and it’s something D.C. will love, too,” Ashburn says.
The diner, manufactured in 1947 by the Paterson Vehicle Company, is in excellent condition, despite the fact that it has been operating from 1949 until about “three months ago” in its Avoca location. Ashburn says it needs some roof repairs and “a good, deep cleaning” to be ready, once again, to serve up short-order fare.
Once the 40-foot car comes to rest in Trinidad, Ashburn believes it will instantly become the first true diner in the District. He may be right. The chrome-heavy American City Diner on Connecticut Avenue NW looks like a classic car from the ’50s, but it was built in the late ’80s by owner Jeffrey Gildenhorn, who was looking to recreate the look of a period diner. There is, of course, the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring, which includes the prefab body of an original 1946 Jerry O’Mahoney diner, but that obviously doesn’t count in Ashburn’s District-only accounting.
Whether it’s the District first real diner or not, Ashburn and Carl’s Capital City Diner will at least be a welcome addition to Trinidad. The partners still have work to do before opening —- including hooking up utilities to a site where the previous owners were poaching water and electricity —- but they expect to start serving up meals in a few months. Carl will serve as cook.
And what should diners expect at Capital City Diner?
“We don’t have a chef, we have cooks,” Ashburn says. “The theme is very simple. It’s a diner.”