FOR NEARLY 55 YEARS, masses of first-time visitors to Sholl's have been treated to a unique eating experience that Washingtonians of every conceivable description have come to know and love as a mealtime institution. And the man who personally made it so was Evan A. Sholl, who died Wednesday at 83--founder, guiding spirit and genuinely exceptional businessman who insisted on fresh food at remarkably low prices, spiced only with a deeply religious devotion to customers, suppliers and employees.

Mr. Sholl, who never did retire, had a simple, enduring recipe for the success that he always shared with his loyal employees: solid, home-cooked American fare, served swiftly but politely to all comers, from the hungry executives and famous names of government, law and business, to the busloads of tourists, the little children, the local down-and-out who came for bargain nourishment, and men of the cloth, who are not permitted to pay.

What you didn't see beyond the vinegar and A-1 sauce, or the table cards with blessings for Catholics, Protestants and Jews, was the legendary low- key generosity of this man: good salaries, eye-popping bonuses, elaborate food baskets for the poor at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and checks to charities at an average rate of one a day all year. The money over and above expenses Mr. Sholl made from his two cafeterias--the Colonial Cafeteria at 20th and K Streets NW and the New Sholl's at Vermont Avenue and K Street NW--went either to these charities or the employees. According to close associates, Mr. Sholl lived on the interest of investments made when he sold all other businesses to concentrate on the two cafeterias.

"What I learned long ago," Mr. Sholl would say, "is that you simply have to give yourself. You work for the person you sell to . . . the person you buy from . . . the person who works for you." That he did with rare kindness, and those who will always remember with gratitude what he did for them and this city are legion.