The Hollywood Diner has had a turbulent history in Baltimore.
Here's a look back.
1981 — Location scouting begins for the MGM production “Diner,” which is to be filmed in and around Baltimore. The Hilltop Diner, the northwest Baltimore hangout that inspired Barry Levinson’s screenplay, has by this time devolved into a liquor store, unrecognizable as its former self.
The production team eventually discovers and leases the diner it wants from Paramount Modular Concepts of Oakland, N.J. The diner, which was manufactured by Mountain View Diners of Singac, N.J., was formerly the Westbury Grill on Long Island, N.Y., according to Paramount sources. The diner depicted in "Diner" is not a replica of, or even similar in appearance to, the Hilltop Diner.
For filming, the diner was placed on a Canton lot near the intersection of Boston and Montford streets, currently the site of the Anchorage town homes. After filming, the diner is returned to Paramount.
March 3, 1982 — "Diner" has its world premiere at the Senator Theater. In the movie, the title hangout is named the Fells Point Diner. Mayor William Donald Schaefer puts the return of the diner to Baltimore on a much publicized "wish list," a plea for private citizens to donate goods and services to the city. WBAL Radio fulfills the diner wish, purchasing the diner back from Paramount for $34,000 and donating it to the city.
January 1984 — The diner is trucked back from New Jersey to Baltimore and placed at the corner of Saratoga and Holliday streets, where it stands today. The diner is camera-ready but not ready for customers – it has no kitchen or bathrooms. Local businesses and private citizens donate nearly $1 million in cash, services and equipment to renovate the diner and set it up as a training center for entry-level restaurant jobs.
September 18, 1984 – The Kids’ Diner opens. The diner is run by the city schools and the mayor’s office of volunteer services. “Food service is one of the largest industries in the United States,” says Fontaine Sullivan of the volunteer office. “[The Kids’ Diner] will be unique training ground for vocational educational students.” The first customer is Mayor Schaefer, who is talked into ordering an “SOS,” which turns out to be a creamed chip beef on toast. “It’s good but it’s not great,” the mayor says.
October 1984 – Dissatisfied with the offerings and prices at the newly opened diner, the mayor orders an assessment of the operations. “The prices were out of line," Schaefer says — a hamburger is $2.35, a grilled cheese sandwich is $1.95.
April 1986 --- A May 14 closure is announced. According to news reports, the Kids’ Diner runs a $100,000 deficit per year. City officials float the idea of turning over the diner’s operations to Baltimore Culinary Institute (later the Baltimore International College, now Stratford Univesity). Alternate proposals include keeping the diner under the school system, allowing the BCI takeover and relocating the diner to the downtown fish market (now the home of Power Plant Live), where it would be run by private owners. But by month’s end the city reconsiders, and Schaefer defends the diner’s mission, saying that it was never intended to make money
1991 –A Brooklyn (Md.)-based nonprofit, the Chesapeake Foundation for Human Development (now the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development), takes over the diner’s daily operations, working under a contract with the city’s department of juvenile services. By May, the diner is shuttered by the finacially strapped city department, and Chesapeake applies to take over the diner’s financial management. In September, Chesapeake reopens the newly named Hollwyood Diner and begins offering six-month training program for juvenile offenders. An informal placement program with the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel, now the Renaissance Harborplace, is inaugurated. The diner continues to lose money, a Chesapeake official say, but not as much. “We might lose $20,000 to $25,000 per year compared with the Kids’ Diner, which lost $100,000 to $200,000 per year. “
ca. 2001 – The Chesapeake Center signs a 20-year lease on the Hollywood Diner with the city’s office of real estate, according to Ivan Leshinsky, Chesapeake's executive director.
September 2009 – Crema Coffee Company, which operates eateries at the University of Maryland’ s downtown law and medical centers, takes over the diner under an operating agreement with Chesapeake. Training remains part of the diner’s mission.
November 2010 -- Crema Cafe at the Hollywood Diner closes in November 2010. "It was tough," owner Terry Jett says, "It's been a really hard year." Jett admits that Crema’s home-made ingredients and locally sourced coffee and breads may not have appealed to a value-seeking lunch audience. Attempts at keeping late-nigth hours, in what has evolved over the years into a small nightclub district, ends up costing Crema more in security than it makes in sales, Jett says. By December, Chesapeake has lined a new operating partner, Cheryl Townsend, a caterer of southern-style food and owner of the former Red Springs Diner on Calvert Street.
March 2011 – Hollywood Diner presents Red Springs Cafe opens with a menu of Southern food.
September 2011 – Townsend posts a closing notice, saying that she will use the diner as catering facility until her contract with Chesapeake runs out. But Chesapeake balks, saying that Townsend is contractually bound to operative as training facility. Red Springs Cafe stays open.
October 13 – The comptroller’s office informs Chesapeake that its lease is being terminated. The organization is given 60 days to vacate the premises. Chesapeake clears out by Dec. 14, but Townsend does not.
Feb 2012 – After a brief hiatus for renovations and menu updates, Townsend reopens the diner. The comptroller’s office says, though, that Townsend will only remain on the property until the end of March. The city announces on Feb. 17 that it will seek a new operator for the diner and will issue formal request for proposals in April 2012
Nov 2012 - The Hollywood Diner reopens under new operators. Formally known as the The Hollywood Diner presents Thomasino's, the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays, and on Sunday mornings during the Baltimore Farmers' Market.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun