The lids are so delicate, so thin, crepey with age, drooping over the gray eyes. The eyes are not watchful, but they miss nothing.

Evan A. Sholl is sitting at his regular reserved table in his new Colonial Cafeteria at K and 20th. It is 12:05, and already the line goes 40 feet out the door and down the hall, right past another cafeteria, which languishes with empty tables.

Sholl is celebrating his 53rd anniversary in the restaurant business. He will be 81 next month. He runs two places, and they are not so much a business as a way of life.

"Corned beef and cabbage, $1.45," says the flier. "Hallowed be Your Name: May we have a clearer knowledge of You, so that we may understand the breadth of Your blessings. . . ."

He became a Christian one morning while shaving. ("All of a sudden, holy mackerel, tears came to my eyes, I started smelling roses and I began yelling, 'I'm going to be a Catholic!") There used to be six Sholl's cafeterias, a laundry, a confectionary, a 200-acre farm. But in 1935 he decided he wasn't giving himself time to live, so he sold most of it.

A half-cup of coffee sits before him.The clatter, the slap o trays and jingle of silver, and the voices rise to a comfortable roar, despite the thick red carpet. "I have people here who have been with me forever," he says quietly. "One woman 47 years. The chef 30 years or so. Most of them 20 or 30 years."

The bonuses are legendary. One Christmas his people got $100 per year worked, and one woman found $3,800 extra in her pay envelope. Sholl's 100 employes are alleged to be the best-paid in town. The women all wear corsages made of pleated handkerchiefs. "It's just a decoration," he says. "My wife thought it would add some beauty."

A man comes in to ask for a job and while he's waiting to be interviewed, Sholl says, "Have you had lunch? Have a lunch on the house."

On the counter, little readerboards tell you, "Religion and patriotism help make this fine place to work," and, "We pray together, we stay together." There is no traditional cafeteria menu. Sholl thinks it's a waste of time, because prices are marked on each item anyway. There is no walk-in freezer, because people track dirt in. There are no boiled eggs or ice cream, because they're always either too soft or too hard when the customer gets them.

"I only got through the second grade," Sholl says."I was the youngest of 13. We were the poorest family in the county. When I got into this business -- after 150 other jobs -- I didn't know what was done and what wasn't, so I worked it all out by myself."

The chefs don't wear hats, because that makes them sweat. The floors are scrubbed with handcloths, not mops, because mops just push the dirt around. Vegetables are cooked in six-quart pots, not in vats. Sholl's suppliers, like Auth Bros. Meat Co. and National Produce Co., are mentioned on the fliers because, as Sholl says, "I'm in business for the customers, for the employes and for the men I buy from."

Creamed ham and macaroni costs $1.65. Roast turkey and dressing, $1.55. Meat loaf, 75 cents. "An egg, any style, supplied by Potomac Butter & Egg Co., is still 20 cents."

A yellowed photograph on a wall covered with plaques, news articles and souvenir dollars shows the victory banquet for a commercial kitchen modernization campaign in 1941. All those bygone faces looking up at some cameramen on a ladder. Now, that's charm.

Evan Sholl is still at his table, sharp in his two-tone shoes and his crisply pressed suit with the rosette of the Knights of Sylvester in the buttonhole. All sorts of people file past him with their trays: business people students, a construction worker, a bag lady. . . . Richard Nixon used to eat here, they say. Billionaire H. L. Hunt came for the rhubarb pie. . . "Try It -- The Best Value in Town. Swift's Premium Select Liver 95 cents. . . ." The chatter reaches the level of a successful cocktail party. They're still coming on, past the salads and dinners and desserts, an endless assembly line of people, 53 years long. . . .