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Paul Markert, Jr. and Scott Edwards, new owners of the Cross Keys Diner

Paul Markert, Jr. and Scott Edwards, new owners of the Cross Keys Diner

When the Cross Keys Diner in Doylestown went dark last summer, its regulars were shaken. So abrupt had been the closing, people couldn’t help but worry about the owners, Steve Auslander and Ann Boyer, though they’d promised things would return to normal soon.

As the weeks then months passed, thoughts turned more selfish. How could this Doylestown landmark, in business for over ten years, suddenly evaporate from our lives? What would we do for lunch? For weekend breakfasts? Don’t even mention some of the alternatives. Chain restaurants aren’t diners.

Then a whisper of a rumor began. Someone was buying the diner. Although it took a little longer than expected (restaurant openings always do), the Cross Keys Diner reopened on November 24th. At the helm are Paul Markert, Jr. – a line cook at the diner for the last eight months – and Scott Edwards, a friend and culinary colleague of many years.

Paul and Scott have worked together at the Carversville Inn and the Centre Bridge Inn. Although both have backgrounds in fine dining, they’ve always loved the Cross Keys.  “I have loved this place from the very beginning,” says Paul, whose sister Amanda Markert has worked there for six years. Before joining the diner’s staff, “I used to be a regular,” he notes.  Scott, too, had a regular spot at the counter.

That’s all fine and good, but as a regular myself I wanted to know more about who they were, and their “philosophy” of diner eating. Were things going to change?

After the diner reopened a few weeks ago, Mark and I had breakfast there. As we settled in at the counter, we glanced around, checking things out. After studying the menus, the specials board, even the crowd, we turned to each other with the same conclusion: Nothing had changed.

That’s pretty much the way Paul and Scott intended it. They recognize the value of the trade Steve and Ann had built up over the years. “Most of our business is regular, so when we went into it, one of our main focuses was to keep the regulars happy,” says Scott.

“Our main idea is to try to get the place running the way it was and then go from there,” adds Paul. The menu is the same, just reprinted. The produce vendor, Amoroso breads and rolls, Ellis True Blue coffee (“We didn’t want to touch the coffee; the coffee’s wonderful here.”), and Haring Brothers meats are all the same. Even Nancy MacNamara and Amanda are working the tables, clearly happy to be back themselves.

“We wanted people to feel, ‘we’re back home again.'”

Like the previous owners, Paul and Scott will introduce new items through the eclectic specials board. A new menu may come in the summer, incorporating past “specials” into the regular lineup to make room for new Blue Plate specials and diner comfort food. And: A dinner menu may be in the future.

Among the changes Scott and Paul have made: The home fries are homemade now, and the french toast has been upgraded to Challah French Toast (made with Jewish egg bread).

Reassured that my old diner was back, I asked how things were going. Was business good? How did the opening go?

Paul and Scott laughed at the question. “It was like turning over an old car that hadn’t been run or maintained for five months” says Paul. “Everything broke,” recounted Scott. “The coke machine – eight times. The dish machine, the ‘Good Eats’ sign. The coffee wasn’t right. And the sink just broke today.”

But business is good. On their first day, no advertising, they hosted 160 customers. “We’ve been very fortunate,” Paul says. “Everyone’s been great. Everyone seems to be really happy.”

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What is it about walking into a bar or restaurant where they know your name? Am I dating myself, by referring to the old refrain from Cheers? Perhaps. But now that I’m older, I do think it captures something.

Our grandparents, and even parents, grew up in tight communities. Family and friends were close by – next door, or two doors down.  I bet the word “community” wasn’t even used. Maybe you don’t have to refer to something that you just take for granted; it’s like wallpaper  – there but hardly noticed.

But today we belong to many communities. We belong to a work community, maybe even more than one. An “old friend” community. Maybe a community based in a house of worship. Or one based on a hobby or interest. And even, one based in a bar or restaurant. The kind of place where when you walk in, they recognize you, greet you by name, and get your drink ready.

Why is this so nice?

We’re fortunate to have found this at a couple of restaurants in Bucks County. Since moving to Wycombe, the Pineville Tavern has become our neighborhood hang-out. Mark and I happen to enjoy eating at the bar – or counter in the case of diners – and look for places where this is comfortable to do. The Pineville, or PVT, definitely fits the bill.

There are regulars at the PVT bar. I once heard one of them chastise the bartender for allowing cheddar cheese to arrive on his cheeseburger. “How long have I been coming here?” he demanded.  “I always get American cheese!” Returned the bartender, pointing to the customer’s friend: “You said you wanted the same as him.” When his pal – and everyone else at the bar – confirmed this, the customer settled down.  (The bartender did get him American cheese, though.) It was just part of the give-and-take you find between staff and regulars that everyone actually enjoys.

The Pineville has a casual menu that runs from burgers to ribs, salads and pasta. The specials bring in a bit more variety. There’s always a fish entree, homemade pasta and a steak dish. The prices range as well, so if you “just want a burger” you don’t have to spend a mint.

Another of our favorite places is the Cross Keys Diner, which recently reopened after a five month hiatus. Here, too, we usually settle in at the counter, where we can read the paper, chat with the wait staff as they run back and forth, and generally enjoy the hubbub.

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Driving down Swamp Road in Doylestown yesterday, we saw the Cross Keys Diner is open again. This is good news.

Until it closed suddenly early this summer, the Cross Keys was one of our favorite places. The food was good, the waitresses got to know you quickly, the crowd of regulars was cordial, and we could usually find a place at the counter even on the most crowded Sunday mornings. If two stools weren’t adjacent to one another, folks would usually shift around to make room. In late May or June, it closed for the owners’ personal reasons. By coincidence, Lynne and I were there for breakfast on the last day it was open, and we’d noticed an air of tension that we’d never felt there before.

We’ve missed the Cross Keys Diner. We hear it’s being re-opened by someone who’d cooked there before, and we see from scanning the Intelligencer’s classifieds they’ve been hiring for all positions. Sometime soon, we’ll get over there to check it out.

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