Silver Diner brings retro look to BWI

Travelers passing through the Southwest Airlines terminal at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport have a new place to grab a bite to eat before hopping on their plane with the opening of the new Silver Diner last week.

"This is a major step in airport food service," said Bob Giaimo, founder, president and chief executive officer of the Rockville-based restaurant. "We are reinventing how it is done."

The Silver Diner in BWI's Concourse A/B is the company's debut in a U.S. airport. The company is expected to open another location at the Philadelphia International Airport in summer 2008.

When BWI authorities decided to add another eatery to the airport, they wanted to bring back the nostalgia of a popular retro dinner in Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood of 50 years ago. At the same time, they wanted to give travelers an alternative to the fast-food options available elsewhere in the terminal, he said.

The new diner is a result of three years of planning, when BAA Maryland, operator of the air mall at BWI, set out to find a company "from mainstream America to bring flavor to the airport," Mr. Giaimo said.

Silver Diner won the bid, got the go-ahead from the attorney general and other local government officials, and received $2 million in financing from a local bank to put toward the diner's total $3.5 million cost. It is a prototype of what will be appearing at other airports across the country, according to the press release.

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said the diner is "one of the final remaining pieces in the concession program's puzzle" at the airport. Updates to the concessions began in 2004 and since then the program has been recognized by the industry magazine Airport Revenue News with top honors in 2006 and 2007.

The opening of the 6,000-square-foot diner is considered innovative for two reasons, Mr. Giaimo said. First, the classic American diner - with its music, yesteryear ambiance, burgers and old-fashioned milk shakes - has never been done before in a serious way in an airport; second, the restaurant is designed to accommodate travelers with varying amounts of time to eat before their flight.

The concept is simple and depends on how much time a traveler has to catch a plane. For instance, there will be the classic diner option where customers can sit down, order from a full menu and get served at their table. Orders will arrive in 10 minutes or less, the company said. The sitting area can seat up to 200 people. There will also be a full carry-out menu for those with 10 minutes or more to spare.

The Grab-n-Go is for travelers with only two minutes to spare. Its options will include freshly made sandwiches and salads. Unlike competitor fast-food restaurants where a salad or sandwich may have been prepared the day before and refrigerated, "We are making them throughout the day," said Mr. Giaimo. "The item will be no more than two hours old when you get it."

At the Five-Minute Express, take-out items such as Panini-style sandwiches and thick, homemade milk shakes will be prepared in three to five minutes. Travelers can sit there and eat, or take the food with them.

Silver Diner also will have a Retro Bar, which features a wide selection of wine, beer and spirits for sale, the company said in a news release this week.

To ensure that customers' orders are prepared in the time they need them, there will be three cashiers handling the orders. What's more, there will be three totally separate businesses within the Silver Diner.

"As far as I know, that has never been done in America," Mr. Giaimo said.

The diner's technology is advanced and allows for this fast, convenient service. These innovations range from an electronic kiosk for ordering, to the gate-side service, which when launched in early 2008 will allow travelers or airport employees to order food from a computer terminal at their gate and have a diner employee deliver it to them, he said.

The restaurant's hours will be 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.