I write a lot of obituaries in this column, not of people, but of places: stores, nightclubs and restaurants that lived long and productive lives and then, for whatever reason, flatlined and were mourned by their former customers. It’s not often I get to write about resurrection.
But that’s what’s happening at Fairfax City’s historic 29 Diner. When “Closed” signs went up on the 67-year-old greasy spoon last month, it seemed that we’d lost another piece of local culture — and, yes, eating two eggs served over easy with a side of home fries and a disk of scrapple at 2 a.m. can be as cultural as watching the Bolshoi Ballet.
Local entrepreneur John K. Wood is helping the diner rise again.
The diner and the land it sits on are owned by the Glascock family. The late Bill Glascock dug the foundation upon which the shiny metal and glass block diner was placed when delivered new from a Pennsylvania factory in 1947. He ran the diner for a while before selling the business — but not the building and land — to others. The most recent operator was Virginia Guevara, a former waitress at the 29 Diner. She ran it with her husband, Freddy, until their recent retirement.
John said he was driving on Lee Highway when he saw that the diner was for rent. “I jumped out of my skin,” he told me. He may or may not have driven over the median in his haste to get to the diner and call the phone number posted in the window. He now has a 15-year lease.
“You step into that diner, and it just takes you back to when you were 9 years old and you got your first milkshake,” said John.
John runs several businesses, including Old Glory Construction and Contracting, a construction firm that employs many veterans. He and Billy Reilly, a local nightlife and restaurant veteran who is helping to promote the diner, said their plan is to have a soft opening July 20. As a much-needed renovation progresses over the summer, the diner’s parking lot will host events, including food truck visits and car shows. They hope the diner itself will reopen by Labor Day.
And when it reopens? There will be diner food, yes, John and Billy said, but also artisanal food served by a rotating cast of acclaimed chefs. There’s likely to be a barbecue component, too. Ambitious.
John said the plan is to work with groups that help veterans and the homeless. He said the Lord inspires him to give back.
“I can’t tell you how many meetings we’ve been late to because he pulls over to give someone a dollar,” Billy said. “John Wood is the most unique individual I’ve ever met. His unique vision is amazing.”
“Everybody sees the same mountain,” John said.
“They see it, but they don’t see it like you,” Billy said.
Fairfax Mayor R. Scott Silverthorne is behind the efforts. “I know that Mr. Wood and his team are very community focused and oriented, which I think is going to be a great thing for the City of Fairfax.”
I was at the diner this week. The surprisingly large basement had been cleaned and repainted. The blue vinyl booth seats sat outside, awaiting refurbishment. John was contemplating one of the tables inside, which had a long crack running through it.
“I’m very anal retentive, and I’d like to fix that,” he said. “But a guy stopped by and said he met his wife at the 29 Diner, and they always used to sit at the cracked table. It didn’t even dawn on me that there’s a million people who have stories about the cracked table.”
If John is successful, a million new stories will be told about the 29 Diner.
On Monday morning, buses will leave Northeast Washington, head out Interstate 66, then turn off toward Markham, Va. They’ll rumble down a gravel road and arrive at Camp Moss Hollow. For hundreds of at-risk kids, the camp is a respite from the city’s heat.
The generosity of Washington Post readers is vital to Moss Hollow’s success. To make your donation, go to www.
familymattersdc.org. Or send a check, payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Family Matters of Greater Washington, 1509 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036, Attn: Accounting Dept.
An anonymous donor is matching gifts up to a total of $100,000. What’s more, our friends at Clyde’s are providing gift certificates to their fine restaurants. If you donate $200 to $299, you’ll receive a $25 gift certificate. Give $300 or more, and you’ll get a $50 gift certificate. (Certificates will be mailed in August.)
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.