How a DC-area restaurant chain is working to help more than 1,700 laid-off workers

A D.C.-area restaurant owner is reeling from the reality of having to fire 85% of his employees, when just a few weeks ago, conditions were flourishing.

“It’s heartbreaking to let people go after 30 years,” Silver Diner co-founder and executive chef Ype Von Hengst said. “For 30 years, we have many people who’ve been with us since day one.”

Silver and Silver Diner has 17 locations in the D.C. area that used to employ nearly 2,000 workers, until the company felt forced to lay off more than 1,700 of them.

The restaurants now have a limited service of delivery and to-go orders.

Robin LeMay Culkin
Now practicing social distancing, Robin LeMay Culkin and her husband used to have breakfast every week at Silver Diner in Frederick, Maryland. When they learned takeout is still available, they decided to “dine” in the parking lot this week. (Courtesy Robin LeMay Culkin)

Some employees have agreed to stay and take pay cuts of 25% to 90%.

“Just to be here and to keep the Silver Diner spirit and the Silver Diner family alive after we open back up again,” Von Hengst said, adding, “A company you might leave, but a family sticks together. So we’re sticking together, no matter how painful it is.”

Von Hengst said he regrets not being able to do more for people he considers family members, and who now have the worry of wondering when a next paycheck, or in some cases even a next meal, might come.

Silver Diner is giving laid off workers free meals for two weeks. The company will continue to pay health insurance through April for workers who received benefits.

Von Hengst is concerned about the ripple effect on local farmers and other service vendors of a near shut down of his business.

He believes continuing the relationships, however challenging, will provide everyone in the connected community the support needed to sustain themselves for the future.

“Everything changes from hour-to-hour and day-to-day. The availability of products through our vendors changes,” he said.

Hungry? These restaurants are offering takeout and delivery options

Keeping the restaurants supplied is proving to be a challenging experience, but a welcome distraction.

“We have to roll with it and that keeps your mind off what’s really going on, not like you ever forget it, but at least you’re trying to occupy yourself with the future and looking for brighter days.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Representatives of the Silver Diner corrected the percentage of paycuts that some employees would take. 

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