Staff and fans at the Double T Diner in Ellicott City cheer on the Ravens during Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. (Andrew Michaels, Baltimore Sun Media Group)
Football Sundays are considered a weekly holiday for waitress Kim Dickinson, who has served at Ellicott City's Double T Diner since 2000. Although the local restaurant isn't actually closed, Dickinson says she tosses some Baltimore Ravens flair into the dining atmosphere every game day to celebrate.
Divided into four clusters, 16 black and purple balloons floated above the countertop Sunday, while mini football dishes rested at every table with Ravens-colored candies, and Ravens cupcakes were displayed at the front of a refrigerated glass case. All channels were tuned into the afternoon game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, as the 30 dining staff prepared for Sunday's incoming football crowd.
"I feel pumped. It's great to see people come out and support their team," Dickinson said. "[Diner staff] wear their Ravens gear and customers do as well. I'm just a die hard Ravens and Orioles fan. I love my teams."
Dickinson said she's followed the Baltimore Ravens since their move to the area in 1996, when then-Cleveland Brown owner Art Modell relocated the team from Ohio. At the time, the Catonsville resident said she was working at the Catonsville Double T Diner, but found customers' strong love for the game when she came to the Ellicott City location.
Eight-year manager Karen Brown said game day at the diner was first recognized during the 2012 football season, which ended with the Ravens earning their second Super Bowl championship followed by the retirement of 17-year linebacker Ray Lewis.
Purple Fridays – a weekly fan ritual of wearing purple to support the Ravens – was taking off in the community, she said, so employees at the Ellicott City diner began wearing their favorite team's jersey during games to show support. Double T Diner management throughout Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Frederick counties later joined in, focusing more on local sports teams, including the Ravens and Washington Redskins, and having staff don jerseys, team colors and other gear.
"Sometimes, you want to get staff out of their uniforms so they feel that they're a part of the team," Brown said, an Ellicott City resident. "We can talk football and interact with customers. At game time, everybody's cheering, clapping or saying something is a terrible play, all the stuff you do during a football game."
Although she's a Redskins fan, Brown said she loves showing Baltimore pride alongside customers. She also creates a game day menu to enhance the football atmosphere with a Ravens burger, chicken sandwich and purple passion fruit drink.
Cassie "Mama Cass" Kohlhett, another waitress, says she's been a Ravens fan for the last 20 years, always showing her purple pride on game days with a Ravens headpiece, dog tags and earrings.
"I do love the Ravens. They're all pretty good," Kohlhett said. "We lost a lot of good ones and, of course, we've got a lot of good ones coming in."
Her favorite players remain former tight end Todd Heap and current quarterback Joe Flacco.
Shuffling plates of food from the kitchen to customers, Kohlhett said she loves the feeling of the diner during football season, listening to cheering and booing throughout game play. This year, staff and customers are also continuing their $2,000-betting pool throughout the season as well as a smaller pool for the Super Bowl.
"It's really fun," the Finksburg resident said. "It's good to have all these people root for the Ravens. The customers see that staff have on their pride for their home team [and] a lot of times, customers come in and they're dressed up in their Ravens gear too. It's a good combination."
Dickinson started her Sunday shift at 5 a.m. Ravens fans and regulars all trickled in for breakfast around 8 a.m., immediately talking football and predictions about the upcoming game.
Ellicott City resident Alex Trapp said he stopped in to grab a quick bite to eat just before 1 p.m., but planned to finished watching the game at home with his family. Trapp grew up a Ravens fan, always excited to see how they play at the start of each season.
The 21-year-old said he is currently studying sports therapy in hopes of joining the Baltimore Ravens on a professional level.
"Hopefully, I can be on the field and do their training workouts to help the athletes do better," he said. "I've been a huge fan of [quarterback] Joe Flacco ever since he's been in the league. The Ravens inspire people to do better in general."
Trapp said he was amazed by the diner's Baltimore team colors, feeling that it added a "homey touch" to the typical restaurant environment.
"Double T Diner is a huge part of this community here and then to support the Ravens like this, all the fans can come here and be like a big family," Trapp said. "We can connect with the staff not as customers, but more as fans."
Three stools down, Kim Kendall, of Ellicott City, finished her meal while watching staff hustle around in their jerseys and take customers' orders. Kendall said she doesn't follow the NFL, but found the diner pleasant yet energized.
After some thought, Kendall said she didn't know of any other restaurants that really got into the football spirit.
"I think it makes it a little celebratory, especially with some of [the staff] wearing costumes to show how much of a fan they are and who they're rooting for," she said. "This is the first place I've seen go all out with the balloons and uniforms."
During a break between tables, Dickinson checked out the score on the TV behind the countertop. The Browns had just scored a touchdown a few minutes into the first quarter. But her frown quickly disappeared when she interacted with her customers.
"A lot of my regular customers have season tickets to the Ravens. If I see them for breakfast, we get to talk about the Ravens," Dickinson said. "I have customers who have given me [their] season tickets to the games. I even got a Ravens Pandora charm from one last year for my bracelet. They're pretty special, my customers. They're really good to me."
Every year, football season has shown a 10 to 15 percent increase in customers on Sundays at the Ellicott City location, Brown said. At Looney's Pub South in Fulton, general manager Sherry Derose said the 7-year-old restaurant has also been a local hotspot for Ravens and Redskins fans alike, with every NFL game playing over the 85 TV screens.
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Looney's Pub has a 425-customer-limit, which comes in handy on game days, Derose said, as Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers fans add to the crowd.
"It's a big crowd. We're full and on a wait list by noon," Derose said. "We have a game day menu with specials on drinks and food. Everybody's upbeat as long as their team is winning."
The same can be said at Union Jack's in Columbia, said manager Shaun Wiggins. In addition to food and drink specials, Wiggins said a good mix of Cowboys, Ravens, Redskins and Steelers fans always show up for game day.
"We have every game on every TV every Thursday, Sunday and Monday. It gets loud and rowdy in here, but it's awesome," Wiggins said. "The staff and customers interact really well. Customers get excited because there are staff who wear jerseys. Everybody is into the game and talks about players and fantasy football. It's all fun and giggles."
At Double T Diner, Dickinson wrapped up her shift at 2 p.m., but kept her eyes glued to the game. The waitress and hardcore Ravens fan said she may love working Sundays, but it'll be even better when she goes to the Nov. 6 game in Baltimore when her team plays the Steelers, and she gets to see the Ravens coach with her own eyes.