Devotees rally for Tastee Diner with a side order of hope

For nearly eight years, three men, dubbed the ‘Laurel History Boys,’ have been meeting for breakfast every Saturday or Sunday at the Tastee Diner in Laurel.

Richard Friend, Kevin Leonard and Pete Lewnes look to share “the good, the bad and the ugly in Laurel’s history,” Friend said.

Now, however, the trio’s local breakfast spot might be replaced if Pure Hana Synergy’s plan to turn the diner into a medical marijuana dispensary is approved on Jan. 24.

On Saturday, Jan. 19, the Laurel History Boys held a Tastee Diner Appreciation Day from 9 a.m. to noon, with hopes to preserve the iconic landmark by moving it to Laurel’s Main Street.

The Comac-style diner, one of only two reported to still be in service, was built in 1951 and delivered by truck from New Jersey to Laurel.

In December, the city of Laurel’s Planning Commission unanimously voted against granting the permit. Now, the city’s Board of Appeals will vote to either uphold or overturn the recommendation.

“Here’s a chance to do something with a unique and endangered building,” said Friend, a former Laurel resident who now lives in Centreville, Virginia.

Dozens of patrons packed the diner Saturday morning to emphasize its relevance and importance.

Friend, who got to the diner before 9 a.m., said it “was full from at least 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with a steady stream of families coming in.”

Karen Lubieniecki, chairwoman of the Laurel Historical Society, lives only two blocks away from the diner andl is a regular patron with her husband.

“It was a great opportunity to reintroduce some people, to remind them of the diner.” Lubieniecki said of the event to rally support.

Jhanna Levin, president of the Laurel Historical Society, has said that the society is not against the sale of the property, nor the construction of the dispensary.

“We brought it up with the city council based on the fact that we did not want this 1951 diner car to be destroyed,” Levin said on Tuesday. “This has just become more than what we ever thought it would be.”

A diner has occupied the Washington Boulevard site for 87 years. In 1967, Gene Wilkes brought the diner into his Tastee Diner Chain. He purchased the diner’s property in 1982.

Laurel Council member Carl DeWalt said moving the diner to Main Street is a great idea. DeWalt said the city has been focused on revitalizing Main Street ever since he came to Laurel in 1985.

“It has been a very slow process,” DeWalt said. “It would be absolutely fabulous if we can move it to Main Street.”

The addition of the diner would help the street flourish and be “a huge draw for people,” DeWalt added.

“I strongly believe that if you look at what occurred on Saturday for Appreciation Day, and what has occurred in the last several months at the diner…. it is a vital step in revitalization of Main Street,” DeWalt said.

DeWalt and Friend would like to see the city’s Community Redevelopment Authority get involved with the idea.

“As part of the historic district on Main Street … I would hope they [the city] would run it as a diner and there’s clearly a want for that,” said Friend, adding that a bakery, a coffee shop or a welcome center would be OK, too, as long as the diner was preserved and established on Main Street as a historic spot.

Lubieniecki echoed Friend.

“It has potential and that potential can be using its current configuration,” she said.

Friend is optimistic that the Board of Appeals will not overturn the planning commission’s decision.

The denial of the planning commission is only a recommendation, the board of appeals has the final say.

The city did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The Board of Appeals will meet 7 p.m. Thursday in the city’s council chambers in City Hall.

jnocera@baltsun.com

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