One concession to time means that pies are no longer made in house and are now supplied by Yia Yia's Bakery in Rosedale.

But it's not just what's on the plate that appeals to the Bel-Loc faithful, it's the people. Employees, including kitchen help that boasts careers of more than 30 years, are part of close-knit relationships fostered during Doxanas' tenure. At the front register is Jean Bell, who has worked for the Doxanas family for 56 years.

One of the restaurant's current 35 employees, Rachel Fisher, has been serving Bel-Loc customers for 16 years. She began working as a hostess at age 13. She said working there has made her more outgoing.

"I used to be really shy. This place makes you develop a personality. You learn how to deal with a variety of people," said Fisher, whose mother, Linda Dawson, and sisters, Danielle Dawson and Lauren Fisher, have also been part of the Bel-Loc crew.

Fisher said she once tried working for a law firm and hated it. Even though it means wearing out a pair of $140 shoes every two months, she'll take the Bel-Loc and the long hours on her feet.

"I don't mind waking up at 5 o'clock and coming in," she said. "It's like my home."

Kathy Arle, a regular customer since the Bel-Loc opened, likes to arrive in mid-morning before the noon rush.

"When it gets crowded for lunch, I'm leaving," she said.

She usually brings something to read. A fan of Scandinavian crime fiction, her companion on a recent visit was "Firewall," by Henning Mankell, to go with a bagel sandwich.

"I like the company here. Everyone is so nice," she said. "It's not McDonald's."

Leon Smith came to the Bel-Loc with his brother-in-law and snagged a job in the kitchen. That was seven years ago; he has been there ever since, now working as a bus boy or wherever he's needed.

"He's a hustler," Fisher said with a grin.

Smith said there is no typical day and no typical customer.

"Anything can happen any day," he said. "If you are not a people-person, this is not the job for you."

Although the Bel-Loc is considered by many to be a Baltimore landmark and an authentic slice of Americana, Doxanas said it has no official status as a historic building.

Still, some fans of old-style diners come from as far as the West Coast to check it out. Business surged after it was named one of the South's best diners by Southern Living magazine in November 2009.

Smith said she has no plans to leave her waitress job. The appeal, she said, is the constant stimulation from the people she works with and the customers she serves.

"There's laughs, there's drama," she said.

And, hopefully, there will always be a Bel-Loc.