Mark Dolabany visits Tiltin Diner in New Hampshire

An Old-Fashioned Diner and the Independent Eye Care Provider: What’s the connection?

After a fifteen-year hiatus from working in the New England area as a result of moving the company to Miami, I have returned to visit old customers and create new ones. After all, this is where I founded Best Image Optical 25 years ago. As I headed north on a beautiful afternoon in early June on state route 93, I noticed that the number of license plates marked with the motto “Live free or die” was quickly increasing – a clear indication that I was driving farther into the great state of New Hampshire.

At the junction of state roads 3 and 140 with route 93, I came across the town of Tiltin, where shopping plazas and fast food restaurants stood like a string of pearls. Gleaming amongst them stood out an old-fashioned diner sign that read “Time to eat, Tilt’n Diner” (by design, the “I” had been charmingly replaced by an apostrophe). My immediate reaction to such iconic Americana was to concede and pull in for my lunch break. This would have been a perfect opportunity to catch up on e-mails and messages too. However, as I stepped through the door I felt taken back in time – when stainless steel ruled the world of diner-motif. I sat at the counter expecting a teenage Michael J. Fox look-alike wearing a sleeveless jacket to jump out and yell “Doc, hey Doc.”

I felt out-of-place and diffident with my modern technology. So, with my cell phone powered off and my tablet tucked away and out of sight, I was able to preserve what felt like a vintage moment. As I look over the menu filled with American comfort food, I overhear the waitress discussing her newly yarded fence with someone I can only assume is a regular (how neighborly) and notice a busy-bee, younger version of herself, who later on I find that she actually is the waitress’ daughter. I normally keep light on red meat and carbs, but how could I pass up chopped steak and mashed potatoes covered with old-fashioned gravy. Of course, I rationalize that I’m allowed to do so once a week. Moments later, I noticed a well-dressed gentleman greeting and seating fellow diners at their booths and without hesitation taking away used plates. He moved from booth to booth assuring that the customers were being well-served. I asked the waitress if he was the owner, but found that he was the manager of the diner.

As I observed the manager attending the diners, I noticed a sign that read: “The Ten Commandments of Diners.” And as I look around, sure enough the commandments are neatly lined up along the walls of the diner listed accordingly in Roman numerals. I read number IV “Thou shalt not covet Drive-thru convenience,” and all of the commandments had the same smile-generating effect. As I started rushing through my meal, I read commandment “V. Shalt Not ‘Dine and Dash.’’’ I slowed by pace and savored the next delicious bite.

Before I left on my hurried-way, I asked permission to take photos of the diner and its signs. The waitress agreed in a manner that indicated such request was as frequent as the fried seafood platter she was serving the adjacent guest.

As I drove away the fresh water craft-dealers seemed to cluster along my route, indicating that I was in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, I wondered if Anthony Bourdain missed this beautiful part of the country.

I thought for a moment, “this is how visitors to the independent optical stores must feel.” Just like the diner, there is an air of nostalgic, old-fashioned personal service. Customers are always greeted with pleasant smiles from an eager to help owner or manager. The staff is always working to give their best. They work as a family unit even when they are not actually related. They even know customers’ by name and they are treated as friends. Customers share their happy moments, like a wedding or a graduation, and their sorrowful moments as their visual needs are fully satisfied. This exceptional customer service is merged with modern optical equipment just as I’m sure the diner had had out-of-sight, but you would have never been able to tell with the oversized, wooden, toy airplane hanging from the ceiling and the sign at the front door warning, “No beepers allowed.”

And perhaps you even manage your optical store by your own Ten Commandments, only you don’t have to put them up on the wall, you keep them in your heart as a guide in the way you serve your customers, with the old-fashioned professionalism and dedication that our industry is known for.

Passing the diner on my way back, I was very tempted to stop for dinner. Then, I remembered I had planned to meet my friend David Metzger of US optical in Concord, NH to talk shop … Needless to say my commitment to my friend won over my temptation.

I couldn’t help but to write and share this experience, which has enticed me to plan a trip to Barharbor, Maine, where the lobster is served fresh. It’s been 20 years since my last visit…

 

About Mark Dolabany:

Mark Dolabany’s interest in the optical industry started at a young age, dedicating summer vacations to working at an optical store repairing eyeglasses and working in the lab from sixth grade through high school; and then later, becoming a licensed optician in Massachusetts early in his career. His commitment to the craft later developed into an ambition to branch out and create something of quality and substance. His experience and perseverance led him to establish Best Image Optical, Inc., and where he is now the designer and producer of the company’s frame collections Dolabany Eyewear, Mario Galbatti and Plume Paris. In 1999, he was able to move Best Image Optical, Inc. from Boston, Massachusetts to Miami, Florida for the opportunity to expand distribution internationally to Latin America.