Bob’s Diner in Roxborough is for sale — with one big stipulation – The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Philadelphia-area diners have been steadily dwindling in recent years, with more than a few owners deciding to hang up their spatulas or make way for new development. Jim Evans of Bob’s Diner in Roxborough is determined for its fate to be different, even if he, too, is ready to come out from behind the line and have a seat.

“I wouldn’t be able to wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Bob’s Diner has been around for almost 80 years, but I’m the guy that bulldozed it under just so I could make a buck,’” Evans said.

After 30 years of ownership, Evans is looking for a buyer for Bob’s, a Northwest Philly staple that overlooks the Leverington Cemetery and serves up one of the most tender omelets in the area. He’s asking $1.1 million “lock, stock, and barrel — property, business, all the dishes, all the food that’s left, anything, and everything. They can even have the dirt under the grill.”

But there’s one big condition: The prospective owner must contractually commit to keeping Bob’s a diner.

Bob’s stainless-steel dining car sits on less than a quarter of an acre of land on Ridge Avenue, sandwiched between the cemetery and a non-denominational church. It’s such a small lot, you might think it wouldn’t warrant much attention, but Evans said he has fielded nine different phone calls from developers over the years.

“If there’s a postage stamp-size parcel of land, they’re putting something on it,” Evans said of Roxborough’s recent surge in development, which has been met with backlash from residents.

Evans’ conviction to keep Bob’s the way it is stems from his appreciation for his employees — the longest-tenured of whom Trisha Harder, is a 47-year Bob’s Diner veteran and his partner — and his customers. “We have a group of guys, I call them the Sunday morning club,” Evans said. “They’re here 7 o’clock in the morning and they stay till almost 9 and there’s about six or eight of them that sit at the counter … Those guys are talking about everything under the sun, they’re talking about sports or talking about politics, whose daughter is getting married, that kind of thing. As silly as it might sound, it would really bother me to realize that they can’t do that anymore here.”

Evans did have a tentative buyer lined up until recently, but after working together over the course of 11 months to show him the ropes, Evans walked away before solidifying the deal. “It wasn’t a good fit,” he said, citing some concerns about long-term compatibility.

“This business can be very, very lucrative, but you got to put your mind to it. You got to put your heart and soul into it. ,” Evans said.

Evans’ predecessor — the actual Bob, Bob Harmer — stayed on for a couple years after he sold the diner to Evans in 1994. Evans, a West Oak Lane native, had had a 20-year career in retail at now-shuttered stores like Woolworth’s, Pantry Pride, and Toys R Us. He didn’t have any restaurant experience when he bought Bob’s without a down payment or even collateral; Harmer, who was eager to step back, held Evans’ mortgage and charged him a higher-than-market interest rate. He passed down all the diner’s recipes and showed Evans the ins and outs of the restaurant, which had been 20th Century Diner before Harmer bought it in the early ’80s.

Evans has tweaked some recipes in the years since, and he curtailed hours — originally 7 a.m to 9 p.m. but now 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. — post-pandemic, but not much else has changed about Bob’s. It operates like a well-oiled machine whether it’s a busy weekend morning or a Tuesday afternoon. There’s a steady flow of fluffy pancakes, grilled muffins, chipped beef, and turkey clubs from the kitchen, and coffee cups are never empty for long. Customers and employees serenade each other on birthdays.

Evans is willing to repeat the long handoff for his successor, or not. “I’ll train anybody I need to, if anybody wants to, and if somebody comes in and has all kinds of restaurant experience … I’ll stay on with them for a couple of months until they’re acclimated,” he said, so long as one thing holds true. “It’s gonna stay Bob’s Diner.”

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