“He loved to dance,” said Jessica Rodriguez, 18. Her uncle, Danny Escobar, founder of Danny’s Diner (298 Beacon Street), passed away from pulmonary fibrosis on March 24 at age 44. He was the youngest of nine siblings, five of whom still live in El Salvador, from where Escobar emigrated 14 years ago.
Escobar’s oldest sister, Rosa, 51, works at the Gap in Harvard Square. Standing outside the store during her 15-minute break on a recent bright and breezy Tuesday, she and Rodriguez shared a few memories. “On Cinco de Mayo, he would pick us up and take us to Chelsea,” Rodriguez said. That’s where the dancing ensued, at clubs and at friends’ houses.
To get to work, Rosa usually takes the T or the bus from her Craigie Street apartment to Harvard Square. She said Escobar would always drive her to work on cold or wet days.
Escobar’s oldest brother, Oscar, now runs the diner, with daily help from manager Christina Dena. When Dena walked in at 9:15 a.m. not long ago, one of her regulars joked, “Hey, it’s before 9:20.” Escobar had often teased her for tardiness; now, longtime customers have picked up the slack. “He always said, ‘If you got the money, I’ll make you anything you want,’” recalled Gary Agnello, 60, one of those loyal patrons. Escobar was also keen on saving money. “He never put the A/C on,” said Dena.
Agnello, who works for the Cambridge Department of Public Works, first became enamored of Escobar’s food – his meatloaf, in particular – in 2003. That was when Escobar opened the Mass Ave Restaurant (906 Massachusetts Avenue) in Cambridge. That was also when Dena began working for Escobar. In fact, if you grab a seat at Danny’s Diner on any given weekday morning, you’re likely to find holdovers from the Mass Ave Restaurant. Frank Gamst, 73, a condo manager, recalled a Thanksgiving when Escobar – on two days notice – catered a full meal for him, so he could accommodate last-minute visitors. “There was a special gravy he made, it was so delicious,” said Gamst.
One of Escobar’s verbal habits was calling everyone “mister” – but then using their first name. “So he was Mister Frank, and I was Mister Gary,” said Agnello. Neighbors of Danny’s Diner cited a similar mixture of professionalism with a personal touch. Richard Sullivan, owner of R.F. O’Sullivan & Son (282 Beacon Street), said that during construction of Danny’s Diner, Escobar often stopped in to pick his brain about doing business in the neighborhood. Al Nevaras, owner of Seven Hills Wine & Spirits (288 Beacon Street), appreciated how “the guy never missed a day.”
When Rosa’s 15-minute break ended and it was time for her to return to her shift at the Gap, a Scout reporter asked her if there was anything she wanted to add. She looked to Rodriguez for a second and said something softly in Spanish. Rodriguez translated: “He was a good brother.”