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Following fire, Vienna Moose Lodge welcome 29 Diner staff for work

Earl Green, the executive chef at 29 Diner, plates an order at the Vienna Moose Lodge (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

As the 29 Diner recovers from a devastating fire in the fall, a community organization in Vienna has teamed up with the historic Fairfax restaurant’s cooking staff to revamp its menu and run catering and charitable campaigns.

The Vienna Moose Lodge #1896 welcomed the diner’s executive chef, Earl Green, to work on Monday (Jan. 10) in a temporary setup to provide meals to lodge members through events like all-you-can-eat breakfasts on Sunday mornings.

“Most of the members who are on the board have been into the diner at one time or another in the last 10, 20 years,” the lodge’s president, Dan Sullivan, said. “I’ve been going there since I was in high school.”

The collaboration began when lodge board member Scott Flesch reached out to 29 Diner owner John Wood in the wake of the fire that destroyed the diner’s kitchen two days before Thanksgiving.

Wood said the kitchen was a total loss, but his insurance company gave him the go-ahead to proceed with a rebuild. Work will require gutting and reconstructing the kitchen, and the dining room needs fire, soot, and heat remediation.

“Our community just has rallied around us in support,” Wood said.

Local teachers started a GoFundMe that raised over $60,000 in 30 days, and the Salvation Army delivered a mobile kitchen to the restaurant at 10:30 a.m. the next day after the fire.

The business has provided 100,000 free meals over the last two years to the community, including those living in domestic violence shelters, health care workers, and veterans, Wood said.

Through the new partnership, the Vienna Moose Lodge — a fraternal organization that provides social events for members and supports philanthropic groups — has hired Wood and Green as paid workers. Four other diner staff members will also get interim work.

The diner had been using the Salvation Army’s mobile cooking unit temporarily to run operations, but it needed something more stable.

Wood expressed appreciation for the lodge’s support. He will run his catering business out of its hall at 9616 Courthouse Road in Vienna starting this month as part of a rental agreement.

He also plans to continue campaigns recognizing community heroes, such as an ongoing a suicide prevention effort.

As for 29 Diner’s Fairfax Boulevard location, Woods hopes to reopen on July 20, which would coincide with the diner’s 75th anniversary.

Meanwhile, the lodge has welcomed the temporary staff to its kitchen after previously relying on volunteers.

“We’re looking forward to some different foods,” Sullivan said, noting that his favorites from 29 Diner include shrimp and grits and a dish with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and pork chops. “In the end, hopefully he will show us and the new staff that we’ll eventually hire in the future to continue…his good food going forward.”

Founded in 1958, the Vienna Moose Lodge is part of the Moose International Fraternity, which started in 1888 in Louisville, Kentucky, and now has over 1 million members across 1,500 lodges in the U.S., Canada, and Britain.

The Vienna lodge has seen a significant growth in membership in recent months, adding 122 members since April to reach 405 people, according to Sullivan.

“I can anticipate we’ll sign up some new members just because John has come to help us,” he said.

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