The evolution of Diamond Jim’s Grill

After 25 years, new owner brings change to neighborhood icon
November 16, 2023 at 12:35 p.m.
Brothers Ron, left back, and Don Artzen, left front, sit in the window booth with Monty Smith on Thursday, Nov. 16 at Diamond Jim's Grill. The brothers have been regulars at the popular diner for years and have been stopping by the storefront since it was Hall's Bakery, long before Diamond Jim's moved in.
Brothers Ron, left back, and Don Artzen, left front, sit in the window booth with Monty Smith on Thursday, Nov. 16 at Diamond Jim's Grill. The brothers have been regulars at the popular diner for years and have been stopping by the storefront since it was Hall's Bakery, long before Diamond Jim's moved in. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Staff Reporter

For years, the original Diamond Jim’s Grill at the intersection of Ohio and King streets near downtown Bellingham was my go-to breakfast spot. 

The small, triangular building the diner was housed in opened on April Fools’ Day, 1998, and was located minutes from my residence. For a mere $5.99 (price circa early 2000s), I was fond of ordering the 2-2-2 special consisting of two eggs, two pieces of bacon or sausage links, and two pancakes. 

photo  The triangular building housing the first locale of Diamond Jim's Grill was small, but welcoming. Diners waiting for a table would often have to stand outside, or cram into the closet-sized lobby. “I loved that place,” founder Jim Green said. “That was my vision of a diner.” (Photo courtesy of Jim Green)  

In the early days, building and business owner Jim Green was regularly found manning the grill, and ace server Sheryl Johnson navigated getting customers seated and fed in the narrow space — which she did with great skill, considering there were a limited number of tables and counter seating. 

With customers in close proximity to each other, conversations among regulars and newcomers were apt to overflow from one party to the next. If the weather was inclement, people crammed into the closet-sized “lobby” to wait their turn for somewhere to sit. In the fall and winter, it was always warm and welcoming. 

“I loved that place,” Green, 62, said recently. “That was my vision of a diner.”

photo  Sheryl Johnson takes orders at the old Diamond Jim's Grill. Johnson was the first hire and is still on staff after 25 years. (Photo courtesy of Jim Green)  

In 2010, the building was razed to make room for road safety improvements, and Green and crew relocated to a much larger space on Meridian Street in the Fountain District, with the city paying for improvements and remodeling at the new locale. 

Until selling Diamond Jim’s to Little Cheerful Cafe owner Josh Magnes in late September, Green and Johnson were mainstays at the breakfast joint for the next 13 years. Along with Johnson, all of the employees were retained by Magnes — something Green said gave him great relief. 

“It was a good go,” Green said of 25 years of running the diner. “I really enjoyed it. It got me on my path. I loved it the best back in the day, when I cooked there and knew all of the customers.”

photo Jim Green, left, and longtime employee Sheryl Johnson pose for a picture on the final day Diamond Jim's operated out of its former locale on the intersection of King and Ohio streets. (Photo courtesy of Jim Green)

Change of ownership 

Numerous factors contributed to Green selling the iconic restaurant, he said. In 2017, he purchased The North Fork Brewery in Deming — within walking distance of where he’s lived since 1995 — so he was effectively running two eateries and wasn’t spending as much time in Bellingham. 

Plus, he said, sales never got back to pre-pandemic numbers, and the restaurant industry was changing due to rising food prices and labor costs. With Green’s silver anniversary approaching, he started thinking about what needed to be done to make Diamond Jim’s successful, and realized he “wasn’t the guy” to make the necessary changes. 

photo Jim Green, former owner of Diamond Jim's Grill, poses on Wednesday, Nov. 15 in front of the restaurant. Green opened the diner 25 years ago, and relocated in 2010 to the Fountain District when the first building was razed to make room for road safety improvements. (Andrew Ford/Cascadia Daily News)

Green had other offers to buy the eatery. But he chose to sell to Magnes because he lives and is raising a family in the Fountain District, had decades of prior restaurant experience, and seemed excited to take the reins. 

“My last day was a little shocking,” Green said. “So much was going on and changes were already coming. It was a little bit weird, but I walked away knowing my crew was engaged and excited about the new person.” 

photo Sheryl Johnson stands with a carafe of hot coffee behind the bar. Johnson has worked with Jim Green since he bought the restaurant at its Ohio and King streets location in 1998. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

What has changed? 

On a recent weekday visit — where I dined on a savory serving of veggie eggs Benedict and sampled a couple bites of delicious biscuits and gravy — some of the changes Magnes has made were in evidence, both on the menu and in the space itself. 

photo Mike Melim enjoys coffee and reads the news from a bar stool in Diamond Jim's. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

The diner kitsch has been dialed back, tableware has been replaced, and mid-decibel classic rock music played throughout our visit. It wasn’t loud enough that my date and I had to yell to hear each other, but customers with hearing problems may take issue.  

The 2-2-2 is still available, as is the Diamond Landslide — a hearty meal consisting of fried potatoes, a biscuit, a sausage patty, cheese and eggs smothered in gravy — but the menu has shrunk significantly, and grilled sandwiches are off the table for now. (Don’t go off the offerings on the Diamond Jim’s website, as it hasn’t yet been updated.) 

One diner I chatted with during my visit said she was bummed to not be able to order her favorite sandwich — the BLT — but was happy with the quality of the food, and was open to the changes, as it meant she’d still be able to frequent her favorite neighborhood diner. 

Other customers seemed pleased with their breakfasts and offered their thanks on the way out the door.

photo Diners prepare to feast on veggie eggs Benedict and French toast. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Omelets, numerous variations of eggs Benedict and hash browns, pancakes, French toast, scrambles and sides are also available, and boozy beverages such as bloody marys, Irish coffee and margaritas have been added. Johnson, who was our server that morning, told us the menu is a work in progress, with management tweaking it as they go along. 

“We’re trying to be as much of a scratch kitchen as we can,” Magnes, 44, said. “We’re making everything in-house. The menu is smaller, but it’s a diner; you don’t have to have everything.”

He acknowledged there’s been some grumbling from customers who miss certain menu items, don’t like the music or are unhappy with the higher prices, but said the restaurant is still finding its footing and hopes people will be patient. 

“Just come check it out again,” Magnes said. “We’re trying to pump some new blood [into the business]. Hopefully, it will be even better. All you can do is try.” 

photo Dylan Swann cooks a Mediterranean omelet in the kitchen. Swann has worked at the diner for about five years. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

He called Johnson “a gift that came with the place,” and said he’s looking forward to seeing what happens in the future. 

“I’m trying to make a place that’s fun,” he said. “When you go out it’s supposed to be fun, not serious. That’s kind of what we’re going for.” 

photo The Diamond Jim's clock ticks on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 16. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Diamond Jim’s Grill is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Monday at 2400 Meridian St. Info: 360-734-8687. 

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