With an aim to provide more choices for senior dining, Meals on Wheels People (MOWP) recently branched out into unknown territory and the response has been encouraging.
Taking over a former Arctic Circle building, MOWP launched their foray into the restaurant business back in February. Julie Piper-Finley, director of marketing for MOWP, confirmed that The Diner Vancouver is the first of its kind in the country.
From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., seven days a week, folks of every age can enjoy breakfast and lunch and the proceeds are funneled back to MOWP for the Clark County area. Customers 60 and over have two dining options. They can order off a special “senior menu” and pay by donation, or order off the regular menu that all ages choose from. The Diner Club menu is similar to the main menu, except for some nutritional modifications to meet federal dietary guidelines.
Located in the set-to-be-redeveloped Heights District (formerly Tower Mall), The Diner Vancouver sees its presence as the first step in that redevelopment. Piper-Finley said that, as MOWP was scouting for a location, they noted that dining options in a two-mile radius from the Heights District were limited.
“When we were building out, people were asking ‘When are you opening?’ There was a lot of anticipation in that area because not a lot has opened in that area,” Piper-Finley said.
Under one roof, The Diner Vancouver serves multiple purposes. It breaks the mold of the traditional MOWP communal dining, which tends to take place at lunchtime in a senior center and draw diners of similar ages; it allows seniors to have pancakes at 9 a.m. on a weekday or invite their granddaughter to join them for a meal on a Saturday; and, it draws the community into the MOWP mission.
At The Diner Vancouver, tipping is a no-no. Instead, patrons can “donate” to MOWP. This reporter personally witnessed a 20-something passionately recounting how he’d heard about The Diner Vancouver, was excited to support it and even more enthusiastic that he had just donated in lieu of a tip. This meaningful and accessible component to engage all ages in the very real affordable food war that some seniors face may not have even been on the radar of the planning committee, but it is a positive footnote in the early pages of The Diner’s story.
Stepping inside the nearly 3,000-square-foot building, patrons are greeted by splashes of MOWP’s signature lime green woven into a mid-century modern theme of lighter wood colors, stainless steel, exposed ductwork and a seven-seat diner counter that provides front row access to every “order up” moment.
On the menu, diners will notice a strong local focus from farm-fresh eggs locally sourced whenever possible to farm-raised meats and in-season produce from area farmers as summer and fall usher in. The Diner proudly serves Vancouver’s own Relevant Coffee, Ruby Jewel ice cream from across the river and all beers and hard cider are sourced from Washington State, including Loowit and 54-40˚. Sporting a limited selection of adult beverages, The Diner even offers mimosas for the quintessential weekend brunch treat.
After a Fort Vancouver Bacon Burger, Classic Reuben or Ham & Swiss melt, be sure to save room for dessert. From-scratch baked goods such as coffee cake and chocolate cream pie are made by a culinary-trained MOWP baker at their central kitchen in Multnomah Village and delivered daily to The Diner. Milkshakes made with Ruby Jewel ice cream melt between the cracks, of course.
Looking into the future, Piper-Finley even sees The Diner Vancouver taking advantage of ample parking with special summer events like farm-to-table style fundraising dinners, picnics, and tents for occasional outdoor dining and possibly even a farmers market or two later in the season.
With the addition of The Diner Vancouver, MOWP can finally address another burning concern; senior isolation. Located on a major bus line, even those uncomfortable with or unable to drive can meet up with friends or family members to enjoy a meal in a bright and safe atmosphere surrounded by diners of all ages.
Inasmuch as The Diner is open to all ages, it was designed with the 60-and-over crowd in mind. Ceiling acoustics keep noise levels at a minimum, ample lighting is installed above each table, adequate space is kept between tables for walkers and canes, all coffee cups have oversized handles, the silverware is substantial enough for patrons with joint or mobility issues and restrooms also accommodate physical limitations. The décor may be fun and funky but the overall scheme was chosen with intentionality.
With considerable positive response in the early stages, Piper-Finley sees The Diner as a possible prototype for other MOWP locations.
“This is completely unique. There is nothing like this anywhere else in the country. A year from now, we’d like people to say that this is a model other MOWP have done successfully and it can be replicated in Wisconsin, Idaho (and) South Carolina,” Piper-Finley said.