The new restaurant in Vancouver serving fried-egg-topped burgers and Ruby Jewel ice cream milkshakes is also funding one of the region’s crucial causes: the fight against food insecurity. The Diner, a contemporary American restaurant off Mill Plain Boulevard, is now open to the public, both as a restaurant and as an official Meals on Wheels location for residents in Multnomah, Washington, and Clark counties. That means food insecure seniors over 60 can eat at The Diner — even if they can’t afford lunch.
Hunger in the elderly community is prevalent, especially in the Pacific Northwest: In 2015, 5.4 million seniors lived with food insecurity across the United States. Locally, 11 percent of Washington’s seniors are food insecure; in Oregon, that’s almost 15 percent. Meals on Wheels specifically feeds hungry people over the age of 60, both delivered and served at cafeteria-like dining centers. The cost of a meal is $7.39, but members only have to pay what they can afford.
“We know it’s better for older adults to get out of their homes so they can socialize,” says Meals on Wheels People CEO Suzanne Washington. “[At the traditional dining centers], it’s fairly institutional. You usually have one or two choices to eat, that’s about it. We’re creating a classic, neighborhood restaurant where hopefully people can go, ‘Okay, this is cool. It reminds me of when I was 30.’”
The Diner doesn’t feel like a dining center — its green booths and circular light fixtures give it a retro vibe, and its menu, while sticking to pretty standard diner fare, is extensive: The restaurant has a number of breakfast and lunch options, including eggs Benedict, a number of burgers, and challah French toast. The idea is that the restaurant’s younger diners can help fund more and better meals for seniors, while seniors get a place to socialize with the larger public.
“We’ve had a reduction in government funding year after year after year, so we’re hoping that we’re creating enough revenue that we can sustain ourselves as government dollars continue to go down,” Washington says. “We don’t need to make a ton of money. We don’t need to pay my salary. But if we can break even, that’s huge.”
Because Meals on Wheels meals have to meet specific nutritional guidelines, some of the dishes aren’t available as donation meals; still, if a diner wants to splurge on mac and cheese or a milkshake, it won’t break the bank; most dishes hang out under $10. Take a look at The Diner’s restaurant menu and seniors menu below: