The Starliner Diner was named after the 1960s Ford Galaxy Starliner; and if you were to take a road trip in search of fun and funky Americana, eclectic food and a place where families come together, the Starliner Diner would be your final destination.
Owner Molly Davis said the restaurant menu was inspired by trips out West. Many items have southwest and Latin American flavors, such as the adobo roast pork or Yucatan chicken, alongside some American standards such as fried fish, pizza and various pastas.
“I’m just enjoying this journey that began 17 years ago and has brought us to where we are now,” Davis said. “This has been a collaboration of families, really, and that has made for a solid foundation and a family environment here.”
According to Davis, most members of her kitchen staff are members of the Cruz-Reyes family, including three brothers, a cousin and now one of the brother’s sons. Her wait staff includes brothers and sisters from other families, some of whom have been with her for 16 of the 17 years the restaurant has been open.
“Even the decorations in the restaurant, a lot of that was donated by friends and family,” Davis said.
The walls of the Starliner are covered in mostly mid-century Americana style art and design, all set off by colorful murals and brightly painted surfaces. A large wall of clocks reminds customers of a parent or grandparent’s wood-paneled lounge or basement bar.
Davis said all of these components - a diverse staff with a long history at the Starliner, food that rivals any fine-dining establishment in Columbus, and a very relaxed atmosphere - have made the restaurant a success.
“Running a restaurant like this is like running your house, except multiply that by 15,000,” she said. “Every day there are groceries to buy, bills to pay and you’ve got to make sure the kids are doing their chores.
“So that’s the kind of place this is: We’ve got a foundation set and I think it lends itself to an open and generous environment where our customers feel comfortable. And that’s part of it - our staff is committed to serving others and they really want to make you happy.”
Running a restaurant requires a sense of humor, Davis said, because not everything goes right all the time. In fact, just weeks ago, her beloved car, her 1960 Starliner, was spotted being towed away from behind the restaurant. Staff members and customers assumed Davis was having it moved. She wasn’t – the car was being stolen in plain sight.
“You’ve got to keep your sense of humor,” she said. “This restaurant would’ve given a serious person a heart attack or stroke by now. With anything that doesn’t go quite right, we just talk it out, use it as a coaching moment. You can’t dwell on this stuff.”
Davis said in the future, she’d like to eventually be able to open a second location.
“We’re so authentic where we are right now that I want to make sure another location wouldn’t water us down,” she said. “Our back-of-house staff has a combined experience at Starliner of over 40 years and our front-of-house easily has over 50 combined years.
“So if we’re able to launch another location, we have people who could transfer over and make that experience very similar to what we have here, but it’s not going to happen right away.”
For more information about Starliner Diner, including hours and menus, visit www.starlinerdiner.com.