Daiva Pilinkaite isn’t new to the diner business—she’s been working in restaurants for the past 11 years. But she hopes to bring something new to the devoted customers who have been following her from diner to diner.
Next month, she’ll open up Daiva’s Diner and Grille in the former Ridge Diner spot on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough.
A love for diner culture
After moving to the U.S. from Lithuania in 2001 and contemplating how she would use her history degree, Pilinkaite got her start in New York City restaurants.
“I hated it,” she said. “I had no experience. I didn’t even know what French toast was. I didn’t even know what a cheesesteak was.”
But eventually, Pilinkaite learned to love diner culture.
“I felt they loved and accepted me,” she said. “I felt good, comfortable.”
Despite her background in history—she used to be a tour guide in Europe—Pilinkaite decided she felt more at home waiting tables, whipping up some good grub and immersing herself in her community.
Pilinkaite moved to Philadelphia and managed Domino Diner on Umbria Street before it burned down. She’s since been managing other diners and waiting tables.
A new start
A few months ago, Pilinkaite was tiptoeing around the idea of moving to England to start a new life. That all changed when she saw an opportunity in a vacant building that was once Ridge Diner and Restaurant, located at 6750 Ridge Avenue.
“I called my brother when this opportunity came…and I said ‘do you think I should take this?'” she said. “He said ‘yes, so I will help you.'”
Pilinkaite said her brother, Salius Pilinka, is a carpenter by trade and has spent the last month or so away from home in England to help her fix up the space she’s renting for her diner.
Pilinkaite and Pilinka had their work cut out for them.
The business owner wants her diner to appear comfortable and somewhat upscale, so she gutted the entire inside of the building and ordered custom-made booths and tables, while her brother helped redo the inner-workings of the kitchen.
But Pilinka was not the only one to step in to help Pilinkaite.
“The customers brought the tools for my brother so we didn’t have to buy [them],” she said. “And [they are] in and out, some of them even bring coffee or food.”
Not only has Pilinkaite meticulously planned every detail of the inside of what will be her diner, she plans on being involved in every step of the process—from the décor to the logo to the way the menus look.
“It’s a time consuming thing, but I want to do it myself,” she said. “If all of it is not nice, I’ll know that I did it.”
Pilinkaite says the features of her new diner will send specific messages to the customers. She says the wireless internet says ‘come and do your work here.’ The diner food and prices say ‘start your day here and feel free to use this as a gathering place.’ But the décor, upscale food options and BYOB say ‘come and play here.’
Pilinkaite said she is sitting down with her chef on Sunday to write the menu.
With the help of her family and community members, Pilinkaite hopes Daiva’s Diner and Grille will be open by April 5.