A whiff of freshly brewed coffee and the sound of bacon sizzling greets customers walking through the door at Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike.
Old framed photos line the white, tiled walls. Alternating blue and yellow stools line the counter as the grill behind it smokes. Blue-tabled booths, adorned with ketchup bottles, are ready for diners.
It’s a little after the breakfast rush at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, staff says. But there are still customers here. A group of three says that this is their first time at Bob & Edith’s, coming at the recommendation of their dentist. There’s a sense of comfort here, they note, like they have walked into a friend’s place. One remarks happily that the coffee mug is ceramic, as opposed to paper.
At that moment, three heaping plates of bacon, pancakes, toast and eggs arrive at the table.
For the last five decades, Bob & Edith’s Diner has become a Columbia Pike landmark. A remnant of days’ past, among constant modern development. The diner has embraced its old-school charm and has expanded to four other locations in Northern Virginia. And there are plans for many more.
When asked why he thinks his parents’ diner has continued to thrive after all of these years, owner Greg Bolton says it’s pretty simple.
“It’s good all-American food, cooked right in front of you,” says Bolton. “We haven’t changed a whole heck of a lot in 50 years.”
On November 1, 1969, North Carolina-native Bob Bolton officially opened his diner in a building formerly occupied by “Gray’s Donut Dinette.” He named it after himself and his wife, Edith.
It was a very small restaurant at the time, Bolton says, only 10 stools and a counter. It also had only eight or nine items on the menu, which was pasted on the wall.
Back then, a huge portion of the diner’s customers were from the Navy Annex on S. Courthouse Road and the Pentagon. The diner even had a special specifically for those workers: The SOS, the Serviceman’s Special, which was a chipped beef breakfast.
Bob Bolton worked the grill and loved talking to customers about football, his son says. It must have made for pretty good conversation since Bolton was a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, a fierce rival of the hometown Washington Football Team.
When asked why his dad (and Greg as well) was a Cowboys fan, the younger Bolton laughs.
“Because they are the best team in America,” he says.
To this day, every Bob & Edith’s location is adorned with Cowboy paraphernalia, no doubt boiling the blood of local football fans and the former Washington football players that have come into the diner.
“Oh, they hated it,” Bolton says.
In the early 1980s, Bob expanded the menu and added tables, matching pretty much what one sees today… save for a few old photos that customers have stolen off the wall over the years, Greg says. When his dad and mom died, Greg Bolton took over the diner.
He says that since he had been helping at the diner beginning when he was 7 years old, he was well-prepared to run the family business.
“Hard work, serve good food, keep the place clean,” Bolton says of the lessons he learned from mom and dad. “Take care of your customers. Take care of staff. Treat people the way they should be treated.”
For the last several decades, Bolton has kept the diner cooking, working alongside his own children Chris and Tammy as well.
And it’s become a Pike icon, a place where folks from all walks of life stop for 3 a.m. coffee or a 11 p.m. stack of pancakes. That includes politicians, athletes, celebrities and professional wrestlers. A photo of wrestler Paul “Big Show” Wight signing autographs is on the back wall of the diner.
“It was probably 3 a.m. in the morning… and [pro wrestler and actor] John Cena walked through that door,” Chris Bolton says. “We treated him like a regular customer.”
He also ticks off Washington Wizards stars Bradley Beal and John Wall, and actor Val Kilmer, as one-time Bob & Edith’s diners.
It’s likely no surprise that the last two years have been among the toughest for the diner, as it has for many restaurants.
The diner had a record year in 2019, Bolton says, before the pandemic took a lot of that away.
“It’s been up and down,” he says about the last two years. “It wasn’t about making money. It was about getting through Covid and surviving. And we did.”
The last few months, though, he’s seen a clear increase of folks coming back. In fact, he tells ARLnow that the last quarter saw a 12% increase in sales from 2019 across all of their restaurants.
Plus, the pandemic put a focus on delivery and outdoor seating, both of which will be part of the diner’s business plans going forward.
A tough two years didn’t cancel Bolton’s ultimate hope of opening more locations and not just in Northern Virginia.
“A good 24-hour diner could go anywhere. It brings comfort to the neighborhood, a place where people can gather,” he says. “Family-owned diners were fading away…but it’s definitely something the world wants and needs.”
In recent years, Bolton has opened four other Bob & Edith’s locations, including two more in Arlington — in Crystal City and along Route 29 — as well as one in Alexandria and one in Springfield. Next month, Bolton says, they’ll finally open a restaurant on King Street in Old Town Alexandria. The diner is closing in on a deal for a location in Tysons, possibly by June. He also spoke about opening a location in Bethesda.
But Bolton’s sights aren’t just set on the region.
“I want to send [a Bob & Edith’s Diner] all the way to Dubai,” Bolton says. “I want them all around the world.”
In the meantime, though, Columbia Pike continues to be home. While the original building was up for sale in 2018, the family signed a new 10-year lease and currently have no plans to leave.
When asked what his parents would think about the diner today, Bolton says Bob and Edith would be proud.
“They would be impressed. They taught me everything,” he says. “The diner’s been great for me, my family, the community, and the world.”
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