Why Every Community Needs A Diner

By | December 1, 2013

(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on November 30, 2013)

The one thing I remember about the diner that night is that it smelled like a home rather than a restaurant. Also, the invitation to sit wherever we wanted and being addressed with “dear.”

When you’re new in a place, “dear” sounds right.

An elderly couple smiled from across the room and nodded welcome — a remnant from the days when looking at someone you didn’t know was not rude but rather a greeting that meant just that, ‘welcome.’

We spent a tired first night in the attached inn and late morning found us in the diner again, for breakfast. In less than 24 hours, the diner had become a familiar place with familiar faces and “dear” was tucked motherly into every other sentence. Breakfast was good and warm.

Life rolled on and we moved into our house a few blocks away from the diner. Nightly walks had us by its red-lit OPEN sign often, and every time I looked inside I was reminded of our first night in Kamloops.

A sign outside the door says ‘Coffee and pie, all day, $2.95’ and you see it every time you walk by.

The first time we tried it we had just dropped off the boys at school. Coffee and pie sounded like an invitation and we said why not.

We sat by the window and got engrossed in talking.

The second time, we took the boys there after school and we each got different pies and a big blob of whipped cream on the side.

Someone sitting at another table waved at us, then walked over to say hi. It was one of the paramedics who helped during my youngest son’s asthma attack. He remembered us, my son’s name and the fact that we all have the same kind of boots.

When he left, saying “see you around,” we said the same because we knew it was true. It happens all the time.

The boys pointed at the black-and-white historic photos on the walls, of cars parked outside the same diner, of the inn, of people smiling. I wondered how many of them were still stopping by for meals and conversations. I wondered if the diner will still be when the boys have grown up.

Somehow I know it will. Many diners have been around for a long time and they have the best social-media platform there is: face to face conversations, people from the next table asking how your day has been and actually waiting for an answer.

But not all diners are like this. I remember one in Fort Langley where the old charm is all there but the young waiters who take your order and give you the correct change never ask about your day or whether you live close by.

Another diner near Kootenay Lake had a cold feel to it, literally and otherwise. People there did not connect the dots between visitors and food and you felt isolated.

So we ate and went on our way. It was a freezing sunny day in March, but the outside felt warmer.

Neighbourhood diners where people smile and say “hope to see you again” are a sign of a healthy community and a reminder of the good old feeling of never being far from a friendly face. Locals come and lean back on chairs as if at home, which is somewhat accurate, and travelers feel welcome.

The ladies who bring you coffee and pie and meals call you “dear” and “honey” and you’re tickled pink every time just because. They address children the way an aunt would, they carry smiles from table to table and they laugh with old customers over this or that with a familiarity that you want to be part of because it feels warm and good.

So I want diners like this to stay. Not because I cannot find coffee and pie or a good meal elsewhere, but because of that warm space that connects people to food, to other people and to the community they all live in, for a night, a few years or a lifetime.

After all, a place is a place. It’s the people that make it special.

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