Back then, I was running out of cash and needed to find a job. One of my roommates suggested checking at the nearby Ko-Op Cafe on Lincoln Avenue near 7th Street. So one day between classes, I entered and asked if help was needed. Soon as I filled out an application form, Larry Mizener came out front, sat with me and asked a few questions. Once he had my schedule of classes, he lined-up about fifteen work hours for the remainder of that week. A short time later that same day, I worked my first shift.
In those days, guys wore their white tee shirts and were supplied a long-white apron tied around the waist that swept below the knees. Student workers were all male (Jean Mizener and the children, Little Walt, Debbie, Bette and Marty also worked shifts). As a new employee, I began serving ice water (Every customer received a glass of ice water delivered to where they sat), clearing tables / picking up dishes, glassware and cutlery. New workers, the latest hired began working on the far right of the cafeteria-style counter, a section with bar stools on the other side. Behind the counter on the worker side was a deep double stainless steel sink and drain board. Here we dumped paper, garbage and trash into a garbage can, and stacked dirty dishes and glassware onto an infeed table surface on the left side of the wash sink. Frequently needed to change the wash water, keeping it as hot as possible, adding fresh soap and disinfectant. As soon as possible, as soon as one had a small stack, we washed cups and dishes and dunked them into the hot rinse basin, placed on the drain board on the other side. After silverware was washed, filled into a flatware cylinder, and then rinsed, we sometimes second-rinsed them with scalding hot water from the coffee urn.
Grill at Clyde's Drive In, St. Ignace, MI
Having never worked in a food business before, every procedure was new. As a beginner, another worker with at least a few or several weeks more experience demonstrated new tasks and monitored / corrected my performance. First lessons, move . . . don’t follow a slow, deliberate pace. As I worked, keep a watch on customers sitting at booths, tables and the bar stools. Also be aware of people coming in, proceeding down the cafeteria-style counter, placing their orders, paying at the cash register, and finding a seat. Clean and clear away tables as soon as students leave. Procedures: how to grab, dunk and clean a coffee cup. How to carry seven filled ice water glasses to a table. How to pull an empty glass off the tray, flip it over upright, scoop ice out of the bin, and hold under the spring loaded water spigot to fill - all in a smooth fluid motion, never stopping until one had the number needed.
Inevitably a cup or glass dropped and crashed to the floor, breaking. One learned to stick a foot under the falling item, slowing its descent and sometimes saving a cup or glass. A few weeks later when i moved up the line to work around the grill, sandwich board and steam table area, I learned to apply the same technique on a dropped egg. Of course once in a while, one only succeeded in breaking the egg onto your shoe.
Other newbie tasks; move cleaned cups and glasses to the head of the cafeteria line (left side of the line) where the drink fountain, shake machine, ice cream freezer, coffee urn and cash register were located - - or plates to the middle grill area where food was prepared and delivered. In those earlier days, the Ko-Op was still mixing drinks from syrups and the soda fountain delivered carbonation (CO2 gas). Memorize the number of squirts needed for a coke, cherry coke, vanilla coke, chocolate soda, root beer, green river (lime phosphate), cherry phosphate, etc. Within the coming year, the soda fountain was augmented by the addition of pressurized drink tanks (Switched to Pepsi) in the back room. It seemed that the drink taste was never the same. Other tasks, keep the ice bins full, the floors cleaned up, empty trash bins and move trash to the stockade out back in the alley.
Payday was on Friday. On that day the Ko-Op closed down at 4 p.m. and workers came in to complete a weekly cleanup (One and a half to two hours). Cleanup tasks for the new worker included cleaning the grill and emptying and cleaning the grease catching basin off the back. Also cleaning and oiling the big exhaust fan in the back kitchen. Floors were swept and mopped, the same as they were done every night at closing time. Floors were spot-cleaned / mopped as needed, anytime of day.
Cheeseburger with O-rings at Clyde's
Weekend hours were different than opening weekdays at 7 a.m. and closing at 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday (Someone check me on those hours?) Saturday mornings, the Ko-Op re-opened but closed at 2 in the afternoon. Sundays - opened at 8 and closed at 10:30 p.m. Added menu item on Sundays, a fried chicken dinner that brought in an after-church crowd. And Sunday nights found all the workers back for a meeting at closing time. Sunday nights’ team meeting included sharing ideas, problems and training.
Sometime I learned that the Charleston three (Walt’s, Ike’s Little Campus and the Ko-Op) were based on the Walgreen’s lunch counter model. Walt Warmoth was the youngest Walgreen’s manager during the Chicago World’s Fair (1933).
Clydes Drive-In 2 in Manistique, MI (The UP)
A move up was to work at the sandwich board and the steam table area, then the grill and finally taking orders for food and drinks at the head of the line. For the new guy, you first learned to recite the list of sandwiches for a customer: hamburger, cheeseburger, Bar-b-que, ham, ham and cheese, ham salad, grilled AC, grilled tenderloin, hot beef - - summertime, a BLT was added and later an egg salad sandwich . . . on white bread, toast, a bun, whole wheat, and also added later was a corned beef on rye. Before one ever worked the head of the line, the cash register, you practiced taking orders, adding them up in your head, including sales tax, taking money, and giving back the correct change. Seldom used paper (Rarely if you had a large group with single payer) - there was one right way to do almost everything.
The Lemon Drop in Anderson, IN
In ’64, the Saturday morning crew usually pounded out forty to sixty pounds of burger patties in the back kitchen. Mix the ground beef with onion, pepper, salt and pancake batter for binding. Three or four guys around the cleaned butcher block table. One person covered the table with small squares of wax paper. Lead worker grabbed a large handful of burger mix and used an ice cream scoop to cover each piece of wax paper with a standard measure. Another worker followed right behind with a hand burger press, slamming down over the ball of burger and using a twisting motion to shape and release the completed patty. Goal was to make eight or more burgers per pound of ground beef. Another pulled the patties on wax paper off the table, stacked and boxed them for the freezer. In a few years, we no longer pounded out our own burger patties . . . Pearcy’s Meat Market purchased equipment and could custom produce them to our specifications.
Grilled tenderloins (Un-breaded) at The Lemon Drop
A smaller Saturday morning chore was to assign a newbie to clean, wash and grind a fifty pound bag of onions. Start the process in the large double sink in the back room and complete using a hand-operated food grinder clamped onto that same butcher block table. I can guarantee that everyone’s first encounter ended up with red-eyes watering a river with 20 pounds of onions left to finish. Ground onions were packed into clean plastic buckets and stored in the back cooler - ready to use.
Counter chatter - the worker at the cash register taking orders from lined up student customers, yells out the food orders and pulls any drinks that are needed:
Make that a pair with fries
Hot beef manhattan
Spagetti with a combination salad
Proprietor of Chicago's Billy Goat Tavern
Click here to view a longer related video clip
Opening up - turn up the grill and the fryers, brew fresh coffee in the urn, fill up the ice bins. Check the egg, bacon, ham and bread supply at the grill. Open the doors at 7 a.m. - often one or more persons were waiting outside. By 10 a.m. you made fresh salad, sliced a few tomatoes, and prepped the steam table.
On the job, you learned other practices. “Work both ways” - for example, when you head out from behind the counter to deliver water or food at a booth, look around and see other things that needed to be done in the nearby area as you go out and return. Clear away some empty plates, take out a fresh water glass, replace an empty ketchup bottle, empty and clean an ash tray . . . keep busy, look around, there is always things that need to be done.
Ko-Op Crew in the Fall quarter of Sixty-Four:
Kel Thrush, Walt Stine, Carl Nosbisch, John Ganley, Carl Finfrock, Gary Cook, Russ White, Michael Black. By Spring quarter of Sixty-Five, Michael Black and Carl Finfrock had dropped out. Ken Kirby and Gus Pekara were added. Kel Thrush graduated. Sixty-Five and Six brought Ken Lowry, Sam Steinman, Lyle Mowery, Bob Warnsley, Allen Yoder, and Dale Fruendt on board. Walt Stine graduated. Carl Nosbisch graduated. John Ganley graduated. By Sixty-Seven, Tom Baylis was working at the Ko-Op.
Need some ice here - got it.
Check two o’clock.
Hot, boiling water coming right behind.
Beaver at nine o’clock.
Late Sixties was the first era of short shorts!