By Wafir Salih | firstname.lastname@example.org
In February 1996 at a college career fair, Glenn D’Amore was surrounded by a sea of possible futures. Among the businesses in attendance were hospitality giants like Hyatt and Marriott. As D’Amore neared the end of his college journey, with a resume packed full of hotel and restaurant experience, he set his sights on landing his first major job out of college.
One of D’Amore’s classmates suggested he approach Silver Diner, an East Coast diner chain that had about six locations at the time. The idea was it would be better to work at a smaller company because in a bigger corporation, “You may be more of a number,” and less viewed as a person, he recalls his classmate telling him. The conversation stuck with D’Amore all these years later, but at the time it did not exactly resonate.
“Quite honestly, my immediate reaction was: There is not a chance that I’m going to talk to Silver Diner,” D’Amore said.
D’Amore’s reasoning was sound. At the time, his father was out of work. D’Amore had also just paid twice as much as he could afford to go to his dream school, the University of Delaware. As the first person in his family to attend college, the stakes were high.
“There’s not a chance I’m going to graduate with a four-year degree and ‘Go work for a diner,’” D’Amore said.
Still, he introduced himself to the representatives of Silver Diner to learn more about the company. Little did D’Amore know, that decision would change the trajectory of his life. Fast forward to December 2023, and the Alexandria resident now stands as the president of Silver Brands, the parent company home to Silver Diner.
Foundations of service and sacrifice
Raised in New Jersey, D’Amore lived a relatively humble life. His father worked as a construction worker in New York City for more than 40 years, while his mother worked as an office secretary and at a hospital.
“I was the first one getting ready to go off to college, but my dad oftentimes – not oftentimes – but he would be out of work, and there were times where financially our family was struggling,” D’Amore said.
D’Amore’s core philosophy in life revolves around being in service to others, which is what partly made him want to pursue a career in hospitality. He cites his parents as a major influence, and his father in particular who, despite the financial challenges, worked hard to serve his family.
“I would remember eating [dinner] by my younger sister and my mom, and my dad wouldn’t eat,” D’Amore said. “He would just watch us eat and he wouldn’t eat anything.He wouldn’t eat anything until he knew that we had enough, and then – only then – would he go ahead and eat.”
A pivot toward hospitality
In his senior year of high school, D’Amore was applying to colleges and was looking for the right fit. His plan was to stay close to home so he could be with his family.
“I had applied to many, many schools, and they were smaller schools, predominantly in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, ones that we could afford, which were very, very low-cost colleges, and [I] really didn’t like many of them at all,” D’Amore said.
A couple of D’Amore’s good friends were going to attend the University of Delaware. They asked him to come check it out. He was apprehensive at first, given the cost.
“It [was] twice as much as my family could afford,” D’Amore said.
After visiting, he fell in love and was set on attending. He planned on majoring in business administration, but upon being accepted, he was informed by his counselors that the business program was already full. Despite this setback, they presented him with an alternative option that would allow him to remain at the university.
“They said ‘Look, if you want to still come to [the] University of Delaware, the next closest major is hotel, restaurant, institutional management,’” D’Amore said. “[My response was] if that’s what it takes for me to go to University of Delaware, great! But I want nothing to do with the hotel, restaurant and institutional management world.”
In 1992, D’Amore embarked on his freshman year. As part of his coursework, he gained practical experience in the field, working in various roles at hotels, rest stops and a fine dining establishment.
“One thing I would credit University of Delaware with is they really tried to get you in and out in four years and to have a resume built,” D’Amore said.
Gradually he found himself enjoying working in hospitality, which led to him ultimately deciding to stay in the field.
“I started to say to myself at the end of my freshman year, ‘I think business is what I truly love.’ But I think sitting at a desk, quite honestly, all day long in a three-piece suit with my name tag would be the most boring thing in the world. What I love is the business part of hospitality, and what I really enjoy is being around people,” D’Amore said.
At the February 1996 job fair, D’Amore casually approached the Silver Diner representatives. He likened his approach to a reverse job interview, where he was the one asking the questions. “It was kind of like, ‘OK, tell me about Silver Diner,’ as if I was the one interviewing them.” After their conversation, the representatives invited D’Amore to visit the diner to get a firsthand experience of the operation.
Upon entering Silver Diner, D’Amore was immediately captivated by the nostalgic atmosphere. The 1950s sock hop music, the soda jerk dances performed by the hostesses, the kitchen staff in their paper hats and the servers wearing their checkered bow ties provided a warm and welcoming experience.
“I just really quite honestly fell in love with what I saw, and more importantly, what I felt, which is just this incredible contagious hospitality [and] friendliness,” D’Amore said.
D’Amore left the diner exuberant. He was contacted a month later with a job opportunity. After graduating in May, he officially joined the company in July.
Rising through the ranks
D’Amore began his career at Silver Diner, headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, as a manager, a rare start since most managers there rise from associate positions. After his initial management training, he was tapped by Chris Bullis, one of the kitchen managers at Potomac Mills, to be the kitchen manager at that location. D’Amore wasn’t sure he was ready at first, but Bullis was confident he was.
“I remember saying to [Bullis], ‘There is not a chance that I am ready to become a kitchen manager,’” D’Amore said. “And he said, ‘Look, you may not believe that you could do it, but I believe you can, and I’m not going to hand over this kitchen to somebody who I don’t believe is capable of running it.’”
D’Amore worked as kitchen manager there for a year-and-a-half, and then was given the opportunity to become the hospitality manager of the Merrifield location in Falls Church. It was an uphill battle since the entire management team had been terminated and half the servers had quit, but he embraced the challenge and led the team to success.
“You’re walking in with a brand-new management team, and 17 servers, which, to put in perspective, total, that’s what we would run a Saturday or a Sunday with, and they said that was the total,” D’Amore said. “[But] like sports and the foundation I had in my life, having challenges [is] not something I back away from, so I said, ‘Let’s get in there. Let’s make it happen. We’ll come together as a team and rebuild the restaurant.’”
In March 1999, D’Amore was promoted to operating partner of Springfield. At 26, he was one of the youngest operating partners the company had known. He ran the store until 2003. In 2004, he became area director, overseeing as many as eight to 10 locations, a post he held for eight years.
The shift to ‘fresh and local’
In 2010, as Silver Diner began to recover from the impacts of the 2008 financial crisis, D’Amore worked closely with the vice president of operations to revive the business.
“We had literally run out of money, and we all took pay cuts, or all the way down to the associate level, just to keep the company solvent at that point,” D’Amore said.
D’Amore noted this period also saw an increased concern from the public around over processed foods and animal welfare, partly fueled by the release of the documentary “Food, Inc.” This shift in consumer awareness led to a misconception formed around Silver Diner that the diner was a typical chain-style restaurant, relying heavily on frozen, pre-processed ingredients that were quickly fried and served.
“It couldn’t be further from the truth,” D’Amore said. “We were doing so many things in a healthier way, but we realized we needed to change the way that we were perceived in the minds of people.”
In 2010, Silver Diner made the shift to source from fresh and local ingredients. The move was a significant undertaking. The company had to educate themselves and their staff about what terms like “all-natural,” “hormone-free” and “fresh and local” really meant – terms that D’Amore said are seen commonly today but were new at the time. Part of the process involved understanding that “local” meant sourcing food within a 400-mile radius to ensure freshness.
“It was the biggest change the company has ever encountered, ever. Even as of now, [it’s the] biggest evolution we made,” D’Amore said.
D’Amore said there was a thought process behind revamping their menu.
“We have burgers, but why can’t we have hormone-free, all-natural beef? We have hot dogs and bacon, but we have the opportunity to make them nitrate-free,” he said.
The diner also switched to using unbleached flour for pancakes and started offering farm-fresh eggs and milk.
“We’re getting our eggs and milk from places like Lancaster. We’re getting our sausage, I think, right from Alexandria,” D’Amore said.
However, the transition was not without risk.
“It cost us, I think at the time, almost a million dollars more of money we really didn’t have,” D’Amore said. “But it was like a poker game: We had to put all the chips in because it was either thrive or die [or] survive and thrive overtime.”
As the company began to roll out the transition, the vice president of operations for the company suffered a heart attack. D’Amore was asked to take over. He recalls the morning he was asked to take charge.
“Effectively, all the leaders of all the restaurants were sitting in the conference room, and they said, ‘We need you to go in there and teach these folks the changes we’re going to make,’” D’Amore said. “It was major at the time, from the menu to the decor of our restaurants, to the service we were delivering. It was a huge, huge undertaking.”
D’Amore worked in that position for the next six months until the vice president returned. In 2012, the vice president stepped down from his position and suggested to the founders that D’Amore be promoted to the role.
“I got promoted to that role, and then about two years later, in 2014, I became the executive vice president of operations,” D’Amore said. “December of 2019 is when I got promoted to chief operating officer … and at that point, I had really been doing a lot of that role, so there weren’t very many major changes, and I’ve been operating in that role up until most recently, which is where I was honored and blessed to be promoted to president here, just a couple of months ago.”
D’Amore offered candid advice to those considering a career in the hospitality industry.
“Work in it before you commit to it,” D’Amore said. “There’s a lot of pros, opportunity to grow and be part of a growing industry. However, you work weekends. You work oftentimes on holidays. You work a lot of times when people don’t work. You’ll work early and other times you’ll work late. … But for those who love it, it’s extremely gratifying.”
As D’Amore reflected on his journey and the legacy he aims to leave behind, his perspective returned to those foundational principles of service that guided him throughout his life.
“For me, it isn’t about making it a $500 million company or Silver Diners across the country. Those are all wonderful, but that’s not the legacy I’d want to leave,” D’Amore said. “Legacy for me is people were better off because I was a part of their life. … That’s the legacy I’d like to leave.”