Walking into Sargent's Café is like stepping into a scene from "That '70s Show." Wood paneling, amber glass dividers, and burnt orange pleather booths lend a warm but retro feeling.
The walls are speckled with photos of wildlife and western scenes on shiny lacquered wood, including a copy of the "Indian Ten Commandments." Attentive wait staff bustle about, ensuring nary a coffee cup reaches half-empty as they tend to a consistent crowd of patrons on a recent Tuesday morning.
Though the diner is off the beaten path, tucked between El Rodeo and a loan office on Third Street near Wilson Avenue, it has a strong following. Sargent's was originally opened by the Sargent family in the early 1960s, and is now owned by John Aylward, who took it over about a decade ago.
"We have tried to maintain the same old-school diner feel with simple changes to the menu," Aylward says. "We still have two employees that have been working at Sargent's over 20 years."
That longevity has created an environment reminiscent of the fictional "Cheers" bar, where servers not only know regulars' names and orders, they remember details about their lives.
"I was just thinking about you the other day," a server says to a gentleman across the divider as she comes to take his order.
"Good or bad?" he responds playfully.
But that friendliness isn't just reserved for regulars. Moments after I arrive, I'm sipping on cup-one of an endless stream of coffee, perusing a lengthy, and endlessly-customizable menu with a section featuring "Lighter Fare for the Experienced Customer (60 years and older, please)."
In addition to unconventional menu options like The Lava Bear—meatloaf and a fried egg on an English muffin—and liver and onions, Sargent's also offers a plethora of sides, creating a dining experience akin to ordering from the kitchen of Mom. The most popular items, Aylward says, are the specials.
"We run a breakfast and lunch special daily," he explains. "The regulars don't want to look at a menu. We serve a lot of old-school breakfast, bacon and eggs with hash browns and toast. We serve a lot of country-fried steak. Some days it is all about the biscuits and gravy, other days it is the Cougar special or the Lava Bear."
I order French toast with strawberries, a side of hash browns, and scrambled eggs. My food comes out quickly—though the servers manage to fill my coffee cup multiple times while I wait—and is accompanied by butter, syrup, ketchup, and two kinds of Tabasco. I instantly realize that my eyes are bigger than my stomach, as the servers playfully marvel that I can eat such a large breakfast while remaining what they generously describe as slender.
As I do my best to make a dent in the ample portions, the oldies station plays the theme song to "Friends," which seems to reinforce the convivial vibe. A server breezes by, stopping unprompted to lower the window blinds to shield me from the bright morning sun.
That we're-all-family-here approach extends to the café's signage, which regularly features birthday wishes for celebrities and patrons alike. On this particular day, one side has birthday wishes for Raiders Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. The other side reads simply: "Boss told me to change the sign."
"I pretty much stick to older celebrities that our clientele can relate to, I tend to favor musicians and athletes," Aylward explains. "We also love to put our customers birthdays up on the marquis; everyone should get their ten minutes of fame."
At the end of the day, Sargent's caters to a crowd that values consistency and community. There's no quinoa, tempeh, or pork belly on the menu. But there doesn't need to be.
"We don't strive to serve the latest trend, we aren't fancy, we are friendly and we are a great value," Aylward says. And it's true—the spread too big for me to finish set me back less than $12. "Our girls really try to make sure you get what you want and want you to come back again."
And if the multiple days a week regulars are any indication, the staff is doing a bang-up job.
719 SE 3rd St.
Daily: 6 am-2:30 pm