When I was little, one of my favorite parts of visiting “Gramma&GrampaInHope” (this was all one word in my head, with a second word for “Grandma&GrandpaOnTheFarm” – that’s right, I hashtagged before hashtagging was a thing. Take that, hipsters.) was going to The Store with Grampa. We’d get up early, have a slice of Entenmann’s Cheeese Danish,
and head off on the one mile commute to The Store. Another fun fact about my childhood, there was an ironclad rule when Dad was driving that no one was allowed to ask “Are we there yet?” until we saw the store. My brother once tried to see how many times he could fit the question in between there and the house – that did not go over well.
Once Grampa unlocked and checked for burglars (family legend says he once found one who got stuck in the ceiling on his way through the crawlspace), I would come in and wander the aisles, check out the cold cases of milk, bug the heck out of him for baseball cards and bubble gum, and then I would spin and spin on the lunch counter stools until I got dizzy and fell off or got yelled at to get out of the way for the breakfast customers.
The lunch counter at The Store fascinated me. In a town with a population that still hasn’t hit 2000 as of the 2010 census, a place like this is the original social network and REAL “where everybody knows your name.” It’s where I learned the differences between coffee black, coffee regular, and coffee light and sweet and the joys of a corn muffin cut in half and toasted with butter on a hot grill and topped with strawberry jam. Seriously, try that sometime. I still order it at diners and it’s never, ever lost it’s touch. And there were always stories being told – the regulars would come in, get their coffee and their newspaper, and shoot the bull for hours. In the summer, the tourists would stop by and get their pictures taken because The Store was used in scenes in Friday the 13th, and there were some TV specials filmed there too. And inevitably, one of them would park smack in front of the sign with an arrow pointing out the road to the Land of Make Believe amusement park and ask for directions – the favorite response was “Oh, they closed down two years ago!”
The Store has created a permanent soft spot in my heart for these little hole in the wall restaurants that are run by families who are all about being right in the thick of their neighborhoods. So you can imagine my delight when my husband introduced me to Ted, way back in the day when we were just dating. Ted is a Greek immigrant who runs a pizzeria with his wife, Peggy. If you go in there at lunchtime, the place is packed with all the local office workers grabbing a bite to eat. We usually go at night, when it’s slower, and Ted and Peggy have time to come sit and chat. And just like The Store, there is always something to chat about!
Scene 1 – Paul and I come in, and Ted announces “It’s my birthday! I buy a cake. You have some with me!” and plunks down these gigantic pieces of tiramisu. Later on, we pay our bill and yell back to Ted “Happy birthday again!” Peggy puts her hands on her hips and shakes her head. “Did he tell you it’s his birthday? It’s not. His birthday is in March. He just likes cake, so he invents extra birthdays a couple of times a year.”
Scene 2 – I come in alone. Paul and I are planning to meet there, but he’s stuck in traffic and told me to go ahead and order. Ted tells me if I beat my husband more often, he wouldn’t be late anymore. When Paul finally arrives, Ted yells at him for keeping me waiting, then feeds him a heaping platter of onion rings because traffic must have made him very hungry.
Scene 3 – My bestie and I have a running joke about competing to pick up the check when we go out to eat. This has been going on for years, where we have stolen each other’s wallets, “forgot” to tell the other one that a place is cash only, flagged down a waitress to pay the check while the other one is in the restroom, etc. But my personal favorite is the time that I took them to Ted’s for dinner and stopped by at lunchtime to pre-pay the bill – I slipped cash to Peggy and told her to tell me if it wasn’t enough. When we came back for dinner, Anne and Mark thought they were being all sneaky trying to distract me so Mark could run up and pay the bill as soon as we ordered. Ha ha!
Scene 4 – Last night, we took PJ there for the first time since he’s started sitting in a high chair and eating finger foods. Ted and Peggy both made a big fuss over him, which the little ham ate up! And right when we were about to leave, Ted conjured up a couple of balloons and tied them to PJ’s foot (don’t worry, Paul is holding the string and didn’t let him grab or bite the balloons!). They both thought this was the funniest thing ever!
Even though The Store is now an antiques shop instead of a lunch counter, I’m so glad that there are still people like Ted out there keeping that kind of family business going strong. It’s easy to get caught up in a fast food, generic coffee world but if there’s a little place in your neighborhood that you’ve always wondered about, why not give it a try? Just don’t ask for directions until you’ve carefully read all the signs, ok?