Sunday, May 29, 2011

Halloween 1979

Oh, yeah.

Do you want to hear a scary Halloween story? Yeah? Read the card and then we'll talk.

As a cook, I worked one night shift on Halloween and one night shift on Halloween only. And that was just about enough for me.

Having come from the high-pressure, high-volume kitchen that powered the legendary Percy A. Brown & Company's 355-seat cafeteria in downtown Wilkes-Barre, I never really understood why the short-order cooks at Franklin's felt so much pressure so much of the time. Once I got myself acclimated to all things Franklin's, I could handle any and all things thrown at me by the ever-circling waitresses.

I know the great majority of them would have stabbed me if they thought they could get away with it. I know my way of warding off potential distractions during the height of battle was to launch profanities at them. In fact, my brother once claimed that Chef Gordon Ramsey of Hell's Kitchen fame closely copied my foul-mouthed act. Yeah, I was that bad.

But the older waitresses, the more veteran waitresses knew enough to just stay off of my radar screen when the sh*t was hitting the fan in tsunami-like waves. Why? Because they knew that while I was waxing non-poetic all nasty like, the food would come out in a timely manner and their tip income would be maximized.

Long story short, after having toiled away in the high pressure sweat shop of a kitchen at Percy Brown's as long as I did, Franklin's didn't seem like that much of a challenge on most days.

Enter...Halloween 1979.

Whoever it was that came up with the free Big Ben promotion for trick-or-treaters was an absolute marketing genius. Their only shortcoming was, they probably never came under sustained heavy fire while wearing an apron.

That night, for hours on end, the three of us that staffed the back kitchen earned the equivalent of short-order Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars and meritorious service awards not yet thunk of.

The best decision I made was to chase the night shift short-orders into opening the front kitchen (breakfast end), a place they had never before attempted to serve a dinner hour from. We needed the Char Rock (char-broiler), that was that, and all of their many complaints uttered while under direct fire were quickly rescinded. By me.

When I, a veteran of some truly unique kitchen wars, tells you that this was the single most insane shift I have ever worked, that should count for something.

By the Halloween of 1980, the Halloween promotion was altered just a tad. Yeah, in 1980, if you came into the store dressed in your costume, you were given the aforementioned free Big Ben coupon. Most notably, a free Big Ben coupon that could only be redeemed at a later date.

I was there, man. I can't say I enjoyed it much, but I was the kitchen for Halloween 1979.


Big Ben cards

Ah, the free Big Ben cards.

Over the years, I probably handed out thousands of these. Perhaps tens of thousands.

I had a stash in my wallet. I had a cache tucked into my briefcase. I had them stuffed up above the visor in my car. And I even took some along when I went out for a jog.

If I had a plug nickel for every time the people I encountered asked me about these in-demand freebies, I'd now own huge tracts of land as far as the untrained eye could see.

Honestly, I could really go for a Big Ben right about now.


#8 opens in 1979

Here we have the #8 ribbon-cutting photo from November 20, 1979.

Forgive me, but, I didn't pay attention to city politics until Wilkes-Barre went and elected an unmitigated disaster personified. Is that Mayor Lisman front and center?

Methinks so.


41 S. Main Street, W-B: #8

Does anybody recognize that skyline?

Remember those canopies in the background?

That's a picture of the rear of 41 S. Main Street in Wilkes-Barre. Or, as we who were once employed by Franklin's called it...Unit #8. These days, it serves as the headquarters of the Luzerne County GOP.

#8 opened on November 20, 1979, back when downtown Wilkes-Barre was still thriving. Even though I was but weeks away from entering the management training program, I was transferred into this store so as to make certain the kitchen dominated by mostly new hires did not collapse under the weight of being downtown Wilkes-Barre's only sit-down, waitress service eatery.

This store never approached the levels of our top grossing stores, but it's lunch day parts were definitely not for the feint of heart.

While I did not make many friends during my brief stay as a visiting kitchen manager in this store, that kitchen never went under while I was on-duty.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

From Markie's scrapbook: 1987?

As I mentioned before, days off as a retrained Friendly's/Franklin's GM usually meant not having a day to yourself for some much-needed rest and relaxation.

Nope. It wasn't enough in the mind of the corporate types to operate a successful and profitable restaurant. No, they wanted us to be married to our stores.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

WVIA pledge drives

Back in the day when the company was fresh out of the blocks, the general managers that came before my wave lived and died by the following credo: Good food, good service and a clean atmosphere.

It was simple. And I like simplicity.

But by the time I became a GM, the corporate mentality from 1,000 miles away had already inserted plenty of mission creep into the job descriptions of what I'll call "my generation" of GMs.

No longer were the GMs expected to work a 40-hour week and provide the big 3: Good food, good service and a clean atmosphere. Once the little company that could was acquired by the big company that thought it could, 50-60 work weeks were the norm. And a day off would normally involve getting caught up on paperwork, phone calls up the poop shoot (pre-Internet & cell phone), PENNDOT meetings, City Council meetings or whatever far-flung thing some self-important corporate suit thought might affect your unit.

Oh, and the higher-ups were real big on community service, volunteerism and all of that feel-good, sounds good, publicity-generating malarkey. So the way I saw things at the time, if we had to do some volunteer work, we might as well  have had some fun while we were at it.

Enter WVIA TV...
L to R: Paul Grillini, MC, Monica Bloom and Virginia Lupton

 This picture was taken in 1988. During the WVIA pledge drives, my Kidder St. employees and I would man the phones on one night. And then we also donated 25 Hambo platters on one of the other nights. Yes, the volunteers always fed the other volunteers. And if you've never had a Hambo sandwich, you have missed out on one of this area's lost treasures

We may not have helped to educate young minds by way of public broadcasting, we may not have helped to financially prop up yet another season of Star Trek or Monty Python, but we did have us some fun.


Midnight table card

Below we have a table card from (I'm guessing) the very late '70s.

I used to love sitting at district meetings listening to general managers whining about this, that and everything. Meanwhile, only a handful of us were forced to staff and manage the midnight shifts that all too often went all Fort Apache on the staff, management and sometimes customers.

Yeah, we never closed, which was code for 'don't fu>k with Markie,' his staff or his customers after the bars close. I'm just saying.


Friday, May 20, 2011

From Markie's Scrapbook: December 27, 1990

Not to be totally Kidder-centric...


#3 (Kidder Street) demolished

#3 (Kidder St) recently made the news. Kind of.

The link: Shuttered W-B restaurant demolished
The excerpt: The closed Mark II Family Restaurant on Kidder Street in Wilkes-Barre was demolished Thursday.

Owner Jack Williams said the former restaurant was beyond repair. The roof was filled with holes and water seeped inside. People vandalized the building and stole its copper, plumbing and wiring, he said.
 "Hopefully, we'll be able to sell the property and someone else will be able to put a new building up or do something with it," he said.

In my mind, they did not demolish Mark II. Rather, they demolished Franklin's. And my alma mater, no less.

April 1, 2011
As the only store of the original 12 not converted to a Friendly's, Kidder Street was closed on December 30, 1990. Actually, it was an Apples before Mark II bought the property from Tom Heck, the long-time owner.

The history: It originally opened as The Carousel Restaurant, date unknown. Sometime during the 1960s, Elby's Big Boy leased it. Then, in the early 1970s came Franklin's #3 to be followed by 9 others. When the Franklin's logo was taken down in 1990 only to be confiscated by me (still have it), it became the short-lived Apples Restaurant. And that's when Mark II bought the property.

Of all the stores I worked in, this one was my home. I was hired as a short-order cook in November 1978 at this store. I became an assistant manager at this store in March of 1980. And after a few tours of duty in other local units, I returned as general manager in early 1987.

While the brick and mortar may have been carted off, the many memories will always remain.



This here electronic oasis is going to be a work in progress for some time. And I'm quite certain it'll take a while for the tens of thousands of former co-workers to happen upon it.

When the Kingston commissary was closed, I raided the filing cabinets that were transferred to our basement at #3, 400 Kidder St. I knew damn well that the history of Franklin's contained within those steel cabinets would mean next to nothing to the Friendlys brass, so I made off with untold pictures, menus, waitress ribbons, table cards, door decals, coupons, Big Ben hand puppets, newsletters, management bulletins and much, much more.

So anyway, going forward, expect to see a lot of those items scanned and uploaded to this site.

And if you've got anything at all to add to the mix, please forward it.