It’s Sunday at the Mayfair Diner in Philadelphia and it’s game day: The Philadelphia Phillies have a 1:35 p.m. start at Citizens Bank Park against the New York Mets, so half of the tables are decked out in red Phillies swag. It has the feel of a relaxed pre-party with pancakes.
PHILADELPHIA — If you visit this city’s iconic Mayfair Diner on a Sunday, entering through well-worn stainless steel doors, there is a good chance that hostess Nancy Cienskowski will greet you and escort you to an open booth, menus in hand.
Cienskowski has worked at the Mayfair since the Nixon administration — also known as the early 1970s. She’s seen her share of U.S. presidents dig in to a plate of eggs and hashbrowns: Bill Clinton visited the Mayfair on election day 1992 and Barack Obama stopped by in 2008.
But it’s her regular customers that she enjoys the most. “I’ve watched kids grow up here and now they bring their kids to eat at the Mayfair,” she said.
Some of those kids end up as her colleagues. Waitresses Anne Ariosto, Lauren Hnosko, and Nicole Gutschall are young enough to be Cienskowski’s granddaughters and they dote on her as the Mayfair matriarch.
“I always used to come here as a kid,” said Ariosto, who has been working at the diner for two years. “I’m always excited to come in and see Nancy on Sundays.”
Customers spread out their newspapers on the counter that faces the refrigerated cases of homemade pies and cakes. Waitresses steer heavy mugs of coffee with bowls of creamers balanced on top to grateful diners.
Though Cienskowski says that the economy has created a dip in business, this 1932 institution, under new ownership five years ago, still hums with the clatter of silverware and the familiar ring of the “order up!” bell.
Cienskowski sees everyone coming and going from her perch in front. “See ya Nanc!” a customer calls out with a wave as he heads outside.
“It’s like a home,” says Gutschall.