New owner taking over landmark diner in Dover

Ronald White is the new owner of the Hollywood Diner in Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — The Hollywood Diner, thought to have originally opened in the early 1950s, is getting a new owner.

What sort of changes are on the menu?

Not much — other than the menu itself.

“The diner has a great look that people recognize and enjoy. We want to keep that for the folks around here,” said soon-to-be owner Ronald White. “We’re just going to bring a different type of food and some more energy to the place.”

Mr. White, who is scheduled to close on the property purchase on March 26, is the owner of The Southern Grille of Ellendale. The purchase will act as an additional location serving roughly the same cuisine, which Mr. White describes as “southern country comfort food.”

“We sell anything from a hot dog to a lobster tail and everything is homemade,” he said. “People love our flounder, cream of crab soup, limas and dumplings, candied yams, sweet potato soufflé, macaroni and cheese and we have fresh rolls and deserts daily.

“No one leaves hungry.”

Mr. White originally considered the Milford Diner as a possible new location. But he decided to expand farther north to reach Kent County customers.
Over eight years of operating the Ellendale location, he believes his restaurant has started to build some name recognition.

“Milford was a bit close to our Ellendale location, and we actually have a lot of customers already coming down to us from Dover and Middletown. So we figured this was a good way to come closer to them,” Mr. White said.

After the purchase goes through, Mr. White says he’ll close the location down for about a week to bring in some new equipment, train existing staff and hire more. He expects to reopen by April 15.

Cosmetically, the biggest change will likely be the addition of ‘The Southern Grille Hollywood Diner of Dover’ to the outside signage.

Although there is a fair amount of nearby competition, Mr. White says the affordable, family-style restaurant he plans on bringing to the diner offers something the competitors can’t.

Ronald White stands inside the Hollywood Diner in Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“You’ve got your Red Lobsters and Olive Gardens out here, but we want to kick it up a notch and bring some really amazing southern-style food at a price families can actually afford,” he said.

He’s confident the change in menu will drive new customers to the Route 13 diner and revitalize it.

“We’re going to blow the doors off this place. With a little time, I guarantee you there will be a line out the door for our food,” he said.

Comparable in size to his other location, the Hollywood Diner has about 100 seats to his 70. The Ellendale location currently employs about 30 people, he says.

Muskrat comeback

Mr. White notes that the diner will likely herald the return of the muskrat to Kent County dinner plates. After The Wagon Wheel Family Restaurant in Smyrna closed in 2014, the characteristically Delawarean dish all but disappeared from the central part of the state.

“They served them for years at The Wagon Wheel, but since they closed down we’re one of the few, if not the only, restaurant that serves them here,” noted Mr. White.

Wednesday nights are muskrat nights — or marsh rabbits as they’re sometimes charitably called — at the Ellendale location. Mr. White says that although not all patrons brave the taste-test, they’re actually a “big seller.”

“We’ve done them boiled with gravy, fried or barbecued — head on or head off,” he said. “If they’re cooked right, they’re really good. You have to cook them well enough to get the gamy flavor up out of them.”

It’s fitting the dish should be offered near Legislative Hall, as Mr. White says lawmakers have risen to the defense of the right to continue hunting and eating the semi-aquatic rodent on a number of occasions in the past.

“Eating muskrat really is a Delaware tradition, they’ve tried to stop it a few times over the years — mostly because it wasn’t USDA inspected — but politicians kicked up a storm each time and we’ve been able to keep it. It’s actually some of the only wild game we’re allowed to serve in a restaurant so it’s pretty unique.”

Incidentally, the Dover location will be even closer to Mr. White’s current muskrat supplier.

“We get them from a local trapper in Leipsic — he actually just called me today to let me know that he had 50 for me,” he said.

Sadly, the reopening of the diner will coincide with the close of the trapping season.

“The muskrat season usually runs from late November to late March, so we probably won’t start serving them at the Hollywood Diner until later this year at the start of the next season,” said Mr. White. “But, hey, that’s just something to look forward to.”

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