The Baltimore City department responsible for leasing the Hollywood Diner is asking the Board of Estimates to to terminate the rental agreement with the restaurant’s operator. But Richard T. White, who runs the diner, is vowing to continue at the city-owned property, made famous by Barry Levinson’s nostalgic 1982 movie “Diner.”
In its first six months of operations, the diner reported revenue of about $18,900 and expenses of $24,600, according to a report by the Department of Real Estate. In addition to being a traditional diner, it also serves as a culinary-arts youth training program — a requirement for operators of the city-owned property.
"In consultation with the Department of Real Estate [the diner will terminate its lease] in 90 days," the department said in a report to the Board of Estimates. "[White] does so with reluctance but with the commitment to complete the training program for the current students. The training program will conclude on July 15, 2013."
BBut White says he has not asked to have lease terminated and that he is awaiting decisions from potential funders, including the Abell Foundation.
“The real estate department has depicted me as trying to get out of the lease. That’s a lie,” White said. “Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not about to walk away from our lease. We would never turn our backs on the youth we’re trying to empower. I would never do that. This is why I’m alive.”
The five-member Board of Estimates will decide at its Wednesday meeting whether to accept the Department of Real Estate’s recommendation to terminate White's 18-month lease early; the original lease wasn't set to expire until next spring.
“For a small start-up business it’s not uncommon that full viability is not achieved in the first six months of operation without established financial and marketing resources and support,” the real estate department’s report noted.
The report commended White's efforts with the a training program and acknowledged his efforts to seek funding. “The business has applied for grants to support its programming,’ the report said. “However decisions on those applications have not been received as of this report.”
"The Department of Real Estate reviewed the submitted training program, observed the students in training, and reviewed written evaluations of the students," the report said. "The Department of Real Estate obtained feedback from the participating programs on the effectiveness of the training programs. The Maryland Department of Education, Division of Rehabilitation Services, and [Chesapeake Center for Youth Development] stated that the training program at the Hollywood Diner was doing very well."
City officials from the real estate department and the Board of Estimates did not return calls seeking comment.
In late 2011 the city terminated its lease with the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development, the nonprofit organization that had run the diner since 1991.
Funded entirely by private donations and opened to great fanfare in 1984 as the Kids Diner, the restaurant was originally run by the city schools and the mayor's office as a job-training program. It was leased to the youth center beginning in 1991. The nonprofit ran the restaurant until 2009, when it began working with a series of outsider operators, none of whom succeeded.
White said he will attend Wednesday's Board of Estimates meeting and ask that his lease not be terminated.