I have been a retail manager for over 35 years. From my humble beginnings, I have been privileged to work for many large companies throughout my career thus far. My first “assignment” was folding donut boxes at Bon Bon Bakery. Bon Bon was in the then NEW Kopriver’s Shopping just past the Duquesne/West Mifflin line where Kennedy Ave in Duquesne becomes Texas Avenue in West Mifflin. (I was never able to understand the need to change the name.)
In addition to the brand new Kroger’s, the other stores that I remember were Sun Drugs, located right on the corner, Econ-o-wash Laundromat, Bon Bon Bakery, Hilltop Lounge and Peter Pan Cleaners. Since I grew up right across the street, I had plenty of time to commit the line-up to memory.
My friends and I used to “camp out” in Dr. Brown’s yard at the end of Thomas Street. Donnie was his son, and we had the world on a string! His backyard was directly across from Kroger’s, so we were able to watch what went on once the store closed for the night. We came to discover that delivery trucks began arriving just about dawn every morning. Although we tried to sleep, it seems that we were always awake when the Kroger trucks arrived. Once we got brave enough, we would make our way over to watch them unload. Always wearing our best “aren’t these a great bunch of kids” look, we were able to score at least a box of powdered sugar donuts, just for being cute. On good mornings, we walked away with all kinds of goodies! In retrospect, I’m sure that is where my donut addiction began. Damn those drivers!
As I was saying, from my very first non-paying retail job at the bakery, I have had the opportunity to live in several major cities including Monterey, California; Dayton, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; Columbia, South Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama and Hagerstown, Maryland. I traveled extensively to New York City throughout my career as well. In each city, I was exposed to local cuisine and hundreds of choices in restaurants. You name it, they had a place to eat it. Throughout all of my relocations however, there was never any food or restaurant that was more comforting than those around Duquesne.
As a hunky, fine dining wasn’t on our agenda nor in our area. To find that, one had to travel to Pittsburgh. I grew up with daily family meals. Dad was always home by 5, except for the occasional stops at the GBU or the Cro Club. Mom always had dinner ready, and we always sat down as a family to eat. On those very rare occasions that we would get take-out or go out to eat, we were completely satisfied with the menus and offerings of the food around the town.
We didn’t have a lot of choices for dining in those days. The concept of fast food restaurants wasn’t around in those days. The Colonel, Ronald and Wendy hadn’t made their appearance as of yet, and we weren’t having to choose ambiguous chicken nuggets over lukewarm chili. Our choices were narrow, but we never seemed to tire of them. I suppose that’s what happens when places offer decent food.
I think one of my favorites was Huckster’s Bar on Crawford Ave. Dad would always bring us “Huckster Burgers” and French fries on take out days. The burgers were huge and just dripping with cheese, grease and cholesterol! YUM!! Hucksters had a sit down section for eating, but my dad preferred to bring the food back to the house to eat. I thought at the time that it was because he just loved being with us so much. However, I think it may have been that he didn’t want Mom watching how many shots and beers he drank while waiting for the order!
It goes without saying that even though it was located in West Mifflin, there was, and still is, only one place to go for hot dogs, JIM’S!! Although it is officially known as Jim’s Drive-In, there is really only one thing people would go to Jim’s to get. The tastiest hot dogs with this remarkable sauce and onions were THE item of choice. Jim’s is still very popular, and in fact, has a fan page on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=61355354857#!/group.php?gid=61355354857&v=info! As I grew up, my parents gave into the temptation for takeout at Jim’s only on an occasional basis. After all, they were located ALL the way up on Skyline Drive, which was like the other side of the universe to a Duquesne hunky. By the way, they are actually selling the bottled sauce at the restaurant as well as a lot of the grocery stores around the area.
Another spot that I remember was Irene’s Pizza which was located on Grant Ave near 7th Street. I nurtured by love for pizza at Irene’s. The pizza wasn’t the normal creation that you see in pizza joints these days. The actual pizza pie was square, and the slices were about 5 or 6 inch square. I remember that the cheese they used was different from what you get today. It was so much tastier and I would swear that it was home made. We used to fight for the end pieces since the crust was so crispy. You really were privileged to score one of the corners! It was just like getting that corner piece from a pan of brownies. When we stayed at my Aunt Mary’s, we were always ordering Irene’s. Aunt Mary said she hated pizza. The smell bothered her, she said. (This coming from a woman who would fry up a pan of halušky in a heartbeat. And after all, you know there’s nothing as pleasant as the smell of cooking cabbage! ) Whenever we got the pizza, Aunt Mary would beg us for the crusts and we’d reluctantly oblige much to our chagrin.
Whenever a special treat was in order, my family would venture out of Duquesne and into the big leagues of McKeesport. There was only one place that we went, and that was Eat-‘n-Park. I’ve often wondered how one eats before one parks, but none the less, we loved the Big Boy! It was only on rare occasion that we would enjoy the luxury of actual restaurant dining. I remember how excited we got when we crossed the Duquesne-McKeesport Bridge and head down Lysle Blvd. The Golden Arches and Colonel Sanders didn’t exist in those days, so a date with the family was a very special treat. Although the food was very good, it honestly wasn’t any better than Mom would normally prepare. For her however, it was like manna from heaven, only because she didn’t have to cook it, serve it and do the dishes. Oh, the luxuries of life in Duquesne……..
Now that I’ve gotten myself hungry, I’ve got to run for now….. Ooooh, maybe there’s some leftover poppyseed rolls……