Spokane's iconic train car restaurant Knight's Diner settles into new ownership while preserving its storied past

click to enlarge Spokane's iconic train car restaurant Knight's Diner settles into new ownership while preserving its storied past
Young Kwak photo
Doug Gariepy is new owner and chef of Spokane's historic Knight's Diner.

Market Street's historic Knight's Diner is once again open for business, this time under the leadership of Spokane native Doug Gariepy.

"I grew up in this neighborhood," Gariepy says, so when the opportunity to purchase Knight's Diner arose, "it was a no-brainer."

Although he grew up nearby, Knight's Diner's status as a community staple became even more evident to Gariepy when he took over. The restaurateur previously operated a Zip's Drive-In in Colville before purchasing Knight's, which he reopened in early fall.

"So many people are coming in here telling stories about this diner," he says. "I'm proud to be a part of this history."

The history of Knight's Diner is rich indeed. The restaurant's railcar was manufactured in 1906 by the Pullman Car Company. Serving as Northern Pacific car No. 988, it endured two accidents on the Yellowstone Park Line before retiring to Spokane Valley to be converted into a classroom for soldiers during World War II. As the war neared its end, President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally arranged for No. 988 to be gifted to a Spokane resident who'd traveled cross-country as "Uncle Sam" selling war bonds.

Several years later, No. 988 caught the attention of Jack Knight, a head waiter at the Davenport Hotel. Knight purchased the passenger car for $600 (potentially with cash made from bootleg liquor sales), and in 1949, it made its official debut as Knight's Diner. The diner transferred ownership several times before its most recent owner, Vicki Green, bought it in 1982. Green operated Knight's for 37 years, until its closure in 2019.

Since Gariepy took over, a portion of the rail car was expanded to include a new kitchen, and a 1907 Northern Pacific caboose was added to accommodate a food prep area. Windows were rehabilitated, handicap ramps were added and, perhaps most noticeably, a section of counter was removed to make way for family-friendly booths.

Knight's Diner has been listed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places since 1991.

click to enlarge Spokane's iconic train car restaurant Knight's Diner settles into new ownership while preserving its storied past
Young Kwak photo
Knight's Diner's "Inside Out" burger.

Today, Gariepy's Knight's Diner honors the rail car's rich history and iconic antique roots in part by carrying forward the classy, old-fashioned look signature to the diner. Retro music plays in the background, and Gariepy's menu offers classic breakfast and lunch items, as it has for decades. Plus, most of the food is cooked from scratch.

"I cut my own vegetables. We do everything from scratch," he says. "I'm washing dishes all day, then I get on the line cooking."

Gariepy says customers can expect to see Green's free brown gravy and onions, as well as her silver dollar pancakes, remain on the menu. Aside from those beloved staples, the new Knight's Diner menu is all Gariepy's own. There are the traditional breakfast combinations, which include items like eggs, sausage links, hickory-smoked bacon, hash browns and toast. There's also a selection of burgers, served with fries, plus sandwich options.

To leave his own mark, Gariepy named some menu items after himself and his family. The Baylian Burger, for instance, is named after Gariepy's son. And the Gariepy "My Specialty" omelet is, of course, named for the owner himself. Topped with a generous layer of cheese, the hefty four-egg omelet includes ham, andouille sausage, onion, pepper, tomato and mushroom, served with hash browns and hot, buttery toast.

I ordered the "My Specialty" omelet myself, and therefore feel entitled to my personal belief that Gariepy's Knight's Diner serves warm, tasty comfort food at its finest. Plus, the portions are big, and who doesn't love leftovers?

Reopening Knight's Diner has been no small feat, Gariepy says. "It's a seven-day-a-week job. I just want to make sure I can be everything to everybody."

But Gariepy knows he can't do it all alone. Running Knight's Diner has been a team effort, through and through.

"I brought my mom in from retirement. She retired six years ago, and I asked if she wanted to come in and be a hostess," he says. "My mom is my hero. She did this her whole life. Having her in the house really uplifts the crew. Everyone loves her."

In addition to his mother, Patty Wilks, Gariepy's girlfriend, Trish Malizia, also serves as the diner's manager.

Gariepy says the aspect of reopening he worried about most was finding staff for the rest of his team.

"But I knew they'd come out of the woodwork," he says. "The ones who are here are aces. You see how much they take care of you... just very uplifting. That's the biggest compliment I get from everyone: 'Your staff is just amazing.'"

Gariepy and his team are proud to make their own mark on Knight's Diner's legacy, where so many memories have been made, and where many new ones will be created. ♦

Knight's Diner • 2909 N. Market St. • Open Tue-Sat 7 am-2:30 pm, Sun 8 am-2:30 pm • Facebook: Knights Diner • 509-319-2247

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