Ballston Spa

Route 50 Diner in Ballston Spa open for community, employees

‘How can I not give back?’ says owner Walter Hayer
Employees and Walter Hayer, the diner’s owner, at the Route 50 Diner in Ballston Spa.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Employees and Walter Hayer, the diner’s owner, at the Route 50 Diner in Ballston Spa.

Categories: Business, Rising to the Challenge, Saratoga County, Special Sections

Walter Hayer, owner of the Route 50 Diner in Ballston Spa, has spent his entire adult life feeding his customers since arriving in the United States 56 years ago, and has always been a business owner who wants to give back.

“I came here in 1964. March 14. Came from Poland,” Hayer said. “During the war, we were displaced from Ukraine to Poland. From Poland, my uncle fostered us over here and we came to the United States.”

Hayer has worked in diners in the Capital Region and on Long Island, and managed at several locations before opening the Route 50 Diner in September 2017.

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The interior and exterior of the diner pay homage to veterans from each war and conflict throughout the years. Window murals welcome customers as they enter the location on Ballston Avenue, where the interior walls are filled with dramatic and memorable photos of America’s heroes.

Hayer never served, but he thanks everyone who did.

“I was not a veteran, but my friends were,” Hayer said. “During the Vietnam War, my draft number came up high, so I got missed. When I worked in Spiak’s, a few friends of mine went to Vietnam and they paid an awful, awful price, and when they came home no one even acknowledged them. … People didn’t give them any respect. At least I could do something for them.”

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Now, during the COVID-19 crisis, Hayer is keeping his diner open via takeout and delivery business from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and posts his daily specials on the diner’s Facebook page. While continuing his business, he’s given back to the community that’s supported him. In the past, Hayer personally supported the Ballston Spa weekend backpack program that sends food home to students and their families who are part of the school district’s breakfast and lunch programs. Amid the current crisis, Hayer and his customers teamed up to donate more than $800 to the program.

The Gazette talked to Hayer during a phone interview as he was ending another busy afternoon at the diner.

Q: When did you become involved with the Ballston Spa backpack program?

A: One of the students who worked here during the summertime from Ballston Spa and the teachers that come in had mentioned it. We hopped on board because there were a lot of single moms that needed it. If we can’t take care of our kids, what’s it all about?

Q: Your customers raised $400 for the Ballston Spa backpack program, which you matched. Did their generosity surprise you?

A: It’s amazing. We had a heating and cooling company drop off money, a woman from Vermont sent money, people dropping off money for all our employees, too. We took some of that and called up our busboys — who are not working because we are only takeout — to help them out. I tell you, the smile on their faces and their appreciation is priceless. We are so grateful for those people who are taking care of our employees.

Q: What are some of the other programs you give back to in Ballston Spa?

A: For the past three years, once a month, the Saratoga Knights of Columbus, they help deliver to two homeless veterans’ homes [Vet House and Guardian House]. Because of the crisis, we’re now delivering to them two days a week.

Q: Your photo of a delivery to the Franklin Community Center in Saratoga looked sizable. What did it include?

A: We dropped off 50 pounds of onions, 50 pounds of red potatoes, some canned goods, different pastas, spaghetti sauce. Different things they could use every day and some individual fruit cups.

Q: Your giving program is not just limited to organizations, either. Tell us a little about that.

A: If anyone walked in off the street, if they can’t afford it, we’ll feed them, no problem. A few families came in with little kids that were struggling. If anyone needs it, come in and we’ll give them food to go.

Q: With the economic downturn, why did you decide to stay open?

A: How can I close on my employees and a few veterans with handicaps who come in every day? … The only day we close is Christmas, and this year on Easter, too.

Q: How many people are you keeping employed now?

A: We do our own deliveries, so instead of laying the employees off, one stays inside and the other does deliveries. Right now, I have nine people working.

Rising to the Challenge: Faces of the COVID-19 crisis in the Capital Region

Q: While some restaurants and fast-food chains are limiting their menus, why do you continue to offer various specials each day on Facebook?

A: Every person is looking for different stuff. I know we’re only takeout, but we give them variety and when they come in, they know what they want.

Q: What drives you to stay open during this tough time?

A: We can’t have fear in us. If the fear overtakes the positive, it’s no good. I’ve got to stay positive and hope for the best. You must test your faith.

Q: Do you think you can continue to stay open and give back during this time?

A: I’m going to do it as long as I can because I was blessed during the past three-and-a-half years, so the least I could do is give back to people that are struggling now. They were there to support me. How can I not give back? I feel blessed, so now I have to bless other people that are less fortunate.

More information on the Route 50 Diner: Route 50 Diner

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