In my life I have been a butcher (more on this later), a baker, but not a candlestick maker…and I have had more fun than you’d expect or imagine! My first paid food service job is very similar to others whom I have read; I was a busboy at restaurant. My sister Sue, I did a lot of foodie things with her as you are beginning to see, was a waitress at Stouffer’s restaurant in the Old Orchard Shopping Center in the early 60’s. When I started at Stouffer’s Sue was in high school, and I, seven years her junior, was the perfect candidate for the bus boy position that opened up. Your math and intuition is correct, being seven years her junior, yes, I or Stouffers probably violated child labor laws. However honestly, I do not know if they existed at the time. My father said you’re taking the job and off to work I went! I stayed there approximately a year or so and my memories of the place consisted of the free ice cream sundaes I was allowed to have. Nothing exciting or memorable happens when you are slugging dishes from a table to the dishwashing area.
The other company that was unaware or uncompliant with the child labor laws was Schaul’s, who while I was growing up was known as Schaul’s Live Poultry Farms. Fresh poultry was my family’s calling card. My father and uncles were cut from the same cloth as my grandfather; you worked in the business as soon as you knew what a chicken was. While my four grandsons (who are all under the age of 4) aren’t working on the farm they can certainly identify a chicken in a heartbeat! The next generation of Schauls are keeping the poultry tradition alive!
Schaul’s had three locations, Niles, our flagship store as they call it today, and two smaller stores one located at California and Pratt in Chicago and one in Edens Plaza in Wilmette. I started at the Niles location, separating giblet packs by the thousands. You see, Schaul’s had a substantial wholesale business, providing cut up chicken to restaurants, hospitals, and strictly chicken places such as Chicken Unlimited or Little Red Hens (for those of you who can remember them). And…much to me and my brothers and cousins dismay, they did not want the paper sealed giblet pack, that contained the liver, gizzard, and chicken neck. Thousands of these giblet packs accumulated each and every day. The only good memory I had at that job were the liver throwing fights my brothers, cousins and I had amongst us. Ever get smacked unexpectedly by a chicken liver? It hurts, let me tell you. In the future I will dedicate a few more blogs to my early days at Schauls and current 45 plus years’ journey.
In my early high school years, I made donuts at Amy Joy in Niles, IL. At that time Herman Blattner was the owner and chief baker. I would work with him on Friday and Saturday nights from 9 pm to 6 or 7 am, baking and preparing any one of the 54 varieties of donut they sold…and boy did we bake! Most weekend nights, the two of us and just the two of us, had to bake over 300 dozen donuts. On the rare occasion, such as a busy holiday weekend, we had a helper. That was a lot of hard work, but I can honestly look back on it and say it was fun. It was at Amy Joy that I learned that the best way to instantly cure hot grease on your fingers or hand was to immediately, or as quick as possible, submerge it in flour. Boy, has that trick come in handy over the years while in the kitchen!
I had numerous other jobs in the food industry throughout high school. After the aforementioned Stouffers job I moved on to work in a Chicken Delight carry out place right across the street from our house. I would batter and coat the chicken for broasting. Sometimes Frank Bono, the owner, would let me cook it as well. That was exciting. What wasn’t exciting was when I almost blew up the store and killed myself. Frank, knowing I lived across the street asked me to light the pizza oven in the afternoon when I was mopping the floor. Thus, it would be hot and ready to cook pizzas at 5 pm when we opened up. I could have sworn Frank’s instructions were to turn on the gas, wait a few minutes and then go under the stove, put a match in the pilot hole and turn the dial to 500 degrees. When I put the match in the pilot hole after letting the gas run for a few minutes…there was a little bit of an explosion. I had little burnt pizza particles all over my face! I look back at it now and tell myself two things: first of all, I am so thankful that God was on my side and secondly, any idiot knows you cannot let gas run for a few minutes and then put a match to it! It has to be lit right away…lesson learned…….to be continued…next up adventures at Schauls from age 16 to 21.