Did I ever mention that I grew up in the food business? For 30 years, my parents owned the Express Grill, a neighborhood restaurant in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. I never would have thought that once I grew up, I would be in the food business, too, with my own tea room.
Through the eyes of a child, the “Express” was a magical place. Where else could I walk behind the front counter and select any bag of chips or pack of chewing gum I wanted without having to pay for it? If I was hungry, I simply poked my head in the kitchen to let Mary, our beloved short order cook, know what I wanted. Usually it was a BLT. When my sandwich was ready, I’d hear Mary ring the little metal bell and my lunch would appear on the window that divided the kitchen from the restaurant. And if I still had room, I’d head over to the ice cream freezer and scoop out a sundae or make myself a chocolate milkshake. Heaven!
Hanging out at the Express enabled me to hone the people skills that would serve me well later on in life. Much to the consternation of my parents, I already had developed a habit of talking to strangers. Even as a toddler, my mom would often find me at the bus stop near our house chatting with the folks waiting for the bus. At our restaurant, we had a large group of regulars who knew me as “Susie” and with whom I would chat whenever I dropped in. It was a friendly place where everyone knew everyone.
I clearly inherited my affinity for conversation from my mother. She was well liked by all of the Express’s clientele who loved to talk with her about everything from Cleveland’s nasty winter weather to what went into her homemade “Soup of the Day.”
I had that same easy rapport with my tea room patrons and I think that's what I miss most about my shop. Perhaps I should head out to the nearest bus stop!