Life is a Buffet


Before I am hunted down like Richard Kimble, by psychotic attorneys claiming none of what I have written is true, I have decided to add a disclaimer to my blog. I freely admit that these ramblings are from my memory and are subject to moments of mental frailty and lapses that I can proudly blame on the seventies.

In the previous blog (#5 The Growth of a Nation) I made mention of all of the different types of restaurants in my hometown.

They were all there when I graduated from high school and moved on in 1972. By 1975 most of them were gone. As a matter of fact so was the rest of the downtown. The plaza pretty much sucked the life of downtown Newark and so in response the “powers that were” decide to create an “urban renewal” district, tear down all the old buildings and build a new modern downtown…the model for the new American downtown.

Unfortunately, they ran out of money sometime soon after the demolition and it became the parking lot with no where to go. Somebody cashed in on that deal but it wasn’t the citizenry of Newark. In one fell swoop, Wes’s Luncheonette, Celso’s News Room, The Plaza Tea Room, The Newark Grill (Greco’s pizzeria), The Home Dairy (cafeteria and bakery) Crockford’s Bar and Grill and even Woolworths Five and Dime (soda fountain) were leveled. I do mean leveled as in down to the dirt. Most of the other restaurants either sold or closed around that time too.

There is a popular pearl of wisdom for those that have had portions their lives slammed shut like the lid of a hit man’s trunk. It goes something like: “One door closes and another one opens.” What it doesn’t say is: “Of course when that door opens it may reveal a level of mediocrity unmatched in culinary history.”

When I returned to Newark a few years later, downtown was empty and fast food had found it’s way to town. Carrol’s Hamburgers had essentially the same menu as McDonald’s but with different names. The Club Burger was the same as the Big Mac and they were just as fast.  They built a restaurant near the plaza.

While McDonald’s opened more and more locations in the cities, Carrol’s was doing the same in smaller towns to such success that in 1975 they got absorbed by Burger King. Carrol’s began in Syracuse New York and ironically were an offshoot of the Tastee Freeze Corporation. With their in-town location and fast food menu Carrol’s crushed the Tastee Freeze that I worked at, like a spent smoke.

On one of my visits home I drove past the empty Tastee Freeze building which neighbored The Rose City Drive In Theatre, another victim to the changing times. I was having some changing times myself.

I was in college and had a meal ticket at the dining hall. It was an all you could eat buffet every meal, every day. I lived in a dorm and the guys from my floor bonded immediately. We played hard, consumed copious amounts of potables and ate like there was no tomorrow.  We used to say “It isn’t very good but at least there’s lots of it.”

Instant food like eggs, mashed potatoes and cereal were in surplus. We had rice by the bushel, white bread by the loaf and gravy by the gallon. In between meals we would snack on burgers, fries and shakes at the local Carrol’s or slices of pizza from the local pizzerias.

Fortunately for us there was always a football, baseball, basketball, hockey, lacrosse or soccer game to be played. We burned off a lot of what we put on. Unfortunately for many of us we developed eating habits that affected us for years to come.

As for what happened in my hometown, well the same thing was happening in towns across America; not as dramatically with the whole neighborhood being leveled but piece by piece downtowns were starting to lose their draw to the new plaza culture and with that new culture restaurants and the way we eat changed too.

Next: The Beauty of Being Young and Broke.  Back to the Bob Zimorino Blog home page.


Bio:  Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a Musician with the popular local band Hellgate Rodeo, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. What better place to start his weekly “Taste It” blog than his take on the evolution of food in his lifetime?