If you’ve ever been to the College Park Applebee’s for karaoke on Thursday nights, you might have noticed Mark Dean.
Many students who frequent “Karaoke Night” might recognize Dean by his age — at 63, Dean is older than most of the other karaoke participants — or his taste for songs from the ’50s and ’60s.
But if they came any other night of the week, they’d probably still see Dean in the Route 1 restaurant. That’s because Dean, a Hyattsville resident, has eaten nearly every dinner there since the Applebee’s opened in 1996. Five to seven nights a week, the high school teacher is in Applebee’s, sitting in his usual seat — high-top table number 32 next to the bar.
Dean — or “Mr. Dean,” as most of the restaurant staff insists on calling him — began eating regularly at Applebee’s a couple of years after it opened in the mid-1990s. Now, having been at the restaurant longer than anyone on staff, he’s seen employees come and go and watched the restaurant’s remodelings over the years.
“I started coming out here because it was convenient,” Dean said. “It became familiar, like a community for me.”
Since he moved into his Hyattsville apartment in 1973, he’s eaten nearly every meal out. He takes his lunches at a Washington Subway restaurant near St. Anselm’s Abbey School, where he teaches physical education. And when he’s not at Applebee’s for dinner, he might eat at Plato’s Diner, also on Route 1, or at a local fast food joint.
“I don’t know how to cook; I don’t like to cook. And if I didn’t come out to eat, I’d be alone in my apartment the whole time,” he said.
Nearly two decades after his first Applebee’s visit, he’s developed a routine. He requests his usual table, if it’s available. Then he always places the same drink order: Pepsi in a beer glass with a little bit of ice. Not needing a menu, he chooses from a couple different entrees — the cheeseburger sliders are his favorite — and always gets a side of fries and broccoli.
“I try to eat a balanced meal, so I get a little bit of vegetable in my diet,” Dean said, laughing.
Most nights he sits at his table doing a USA Today crossword while he eats, going relatively unnoticed by other customers. But on karaoke nights, Dean joins the crowd of students and locals waiting for their turn at the microphone.
The majority of people at karaoke sing pop and hip-hop songs from the ’90s and 2000s, said Gregg Moses, the DJ at Applebee’s. But Dean’s song choices are from a different era of music: radio hits by Elvis Presley, Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra.
“We got a veteran in the house,” Moses announces into the mic as Dean takes to the stage. “Give it up for my man, Mark.”
Dean’s modesty belies his not-inconsiderable singing talent, some said.
“When he gets up there, he acts like he’s a terrible singer. But when he starts, everyone’s like, ‘What!’” said bartender and key manager Stephanie Lundi. “He always gets the most claps.”
Dean will usually sing between three and six songs every karaoke night. Sometimes people will come up to him afterward to compliment him on his song choice or his deep vocals.
He’s even gotten requests. One karaoke night, a customer, impressed with Dean’s performance, asked him to sing Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” for the man’s girlfriend.
“That was not too long ago … five years?” Dean said.
Megan Diggs, a senior criminology and criminal justice major, works at the restaurant as a server and bartender. Diggs got to know Dean pretty quickly and now comes in on her days off just to say hello.
Kitchen manager Tiffany Miles met Dean in 1995, when she played for the freshmen basketball team at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney and he was coaching the school’s junior varsity team. When she began working at Applebee’s in 2005, she still remembered him, she said.
“I recognized Mr. Dean right when I walked in,” Miles said. “He hasn’t changed a bit.”