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Archive for January, 2008

Signs Your Favorite Restaurant is About to Close   no comments

Posted at 2:48 pm in commentary

In general, there will be no explicit advance warning that your favorite place is about to close. There are however, some warning signs you can watch for:

The Hours Change

This is a big one. If the place was formerly open on Sunday, but now isn't, if they used to do lunch and supper but now do only lunch, if they used to be open until 10pm, but now close at 8, these are all bad signs.

They are Out of Something Mundane

If you go and they are out of something completely mundane and off the wall, like napkins, or salt, that is a very bad sign.

The Staffing Level Drops

If your favorite waitress is gone, and she has not been replaced, that is a bad sign. If there was a hostess and now there is not, that is a bad sign.

The Owner is Waiting Tables

If the owner just used to circulate occasionally checking to see that everything was OK, but then starts meeting you at the door, seating you and taking your order, that is a very bad sign.

They Drop the Sanitation Service for the Restrooms

If the restroom used to be Sanitized by Swisher, but now has a grocery store bottle of liquid soap, that is a bad sign. It's not that it isn't clean, it still is, but you know they can no longer pay to have it cleaned.

The Menu Changes

If the items that take more work to prepare, or which fewer people order vanish from the menu, that is another bad sign.

If your favorite place starts to exhibit one or more of these signs, well, enjoy it while you can.

Written by ted on January 7th, 2008

Frank-n-Stein Restaurant / Stadium Steak House / Twin Peaks, 409 Blossom Street near the river: 1970s   14 comments

Posted at 2:32 pm in historic,restaurants

Frank-n-Stein's was a monster themed family restaurant. The building is still standing, and now houses, I believe, an Asian eatery, The Millienum Buffet. Before that, it was a strip club called Twin Peaks. I think there were a couple of other businesses in the building over the years as well.

Frank-n-Stein's was one of our spots for Sunday lunch. I don't recall if they actually had "monster" names for all the menu items, but they did have actual steins (glass mugs with handles), which was rather unusal, and they did have franks as well as burgers. I don't know what my parents thought about the place, or remember what they ordered, but they apparently liked it well enough that they wouldn't veto the suggestion.

As with a lot of places I went growing up, I can't remember the exact time it closed, but it was long gone by the time I started driving in the laste 70s.

UPDATE 2 April 2009: Added the street address, added the 1970 Yellow Pages ad, and corrected the name in the post title to reflect the official listing.

UPDATE 12 May 2010: Added Stadium Steak House & Twin Peaks to the post title. Also added the 1998 Bellsouth Yellow Pages ad for Twin Peaks.

UPDATE 13 Oct 2010: Added the Stadium Steak House ad from the 1975-1976 Southern Bell yellow pages.

Written by ted on January 7th, 2008

Liggett Rexall in Trenholm Plaza: 1970s   2 comments

Posted at 2:13 pm in historic,restaurants,stores

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"Liggett's", as we called it, was in Trenholm Plaza more or less where The Fresh Market now is.

Liggett's was a Rexall drugstore, and like most drugstores, carried a good bit of general merchandise. Unlike most drugstores today, it also had a lunch counter, which, unlike Campbell's Drugstore across Forest Drive, boasted booths as well a counter seating. Before the invasion of Columbia by burger chains, Liggett's was one of the most convienient places in Forest Acres to have lunch. We didn't do it that often. I now eat out every day, but growing up, it was more like once or twice a week (almost always for Sunday lunch). I suspect we went to Liggett's when my mother was carting both of us kids around shopping. My clearest memory of eating there is the day my mother made me try ketchup, something she probably came to rue, since after that, I wanted it on everything!

Liggett's also had a now forgotten piece of equipment called a tube-tester. This was a complicated science-fiction looking console studded with tube sockets with a flip chart up above. You would look up your tube on the flip chart, put it in the correct socket, flip the indicated switches to the correct presets, let the tube "warm up" and then hit the test button. If the tube were good, a needle on the test meter would rise into the green zone. If it were bad, the needle would stay in red or amber. I was always pulling discarded radios and TVs from people's curbside trash on the assumption that I could fix them if I replaced the right tubes. There was actually something to this, but since we had several perfectly good radios and a working TV, my parents were generally not inclined to spring for buying new tubes when I found a bad one, and since my weekly allowance was $0.50, I wasn't often in a position to buy one. It was still fun testing though.

I'm a little hazy on exactly what happened to Liggett's. I have some idea that it might have been totally bought by Rexall, dropping the "Liggett's" name and then may have been bought out by Eckards, which definitely did eventually have a store in that general part of Trenholm Plaza. I think Campbell's outlasted it, and there was some sort of drugstore with a lunch counter that lasted at least into the late 80s (on Garner's Ferry), but I think all of the drugstores with lunch counters are gone from Columbia now. Am I wrong?

UPDATE 17 Nov 08: Thanks to commenter Dennis for the graphic of a tube tester. Try doing that with your Ipod!

UPDATE 14 March 2009: Added 1963 Yellow Pages ad.

UPDATE 30 April 2013: Added picture of the Rexall logo from an old sign displayed at the Antique Mall on Broad River Road.

UPDATE 11 October 2013: Here is an amazing picture of the old Trenholm Plaza, with Liggett's. Thanks to commenter Dennis for digging this up!

Written by ted on January 7th, 2008

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Ted's Rules for Restaurants   6 comments

Posted at 5:30 pm in commentary

I eat out a lot, and I've come to see that there are a number of rules for running a restaurant that are honored in the breach more often than the reverse. None of these are rocket science, but I thought I would write some of them down because a lot of restauranteers really need to read them.

1) Honor Your Posted Hours

I can't over-emphasize this item. Your posted hours are part of your contract with the public. Nobody forced you to post a particular set of hours on your door, but having posted them, you need to honor them. If I have made myself work until 9:30 with the lure of a nice supper based on your promise to be open until 10:30 and I show up to hear "Well, it wasn't very busy, so we closed the kitchen at 9, it's too late for me to go elsewhere. You have ruined my evening.

I try not to be a jerk. I will not waltz in at 5 minutes before closing and order an elaborate meal, but if I show up at least half an hour before posted closing, I expect to find your establishment in full operation.

2) Make More Tea

This is a related point. If I come in at least half an hour before closing, and you are out of tea, I expect you to make more. Yes, some of it will go to waste, but it is on your menu and only costs you pennies to make. Besides, if your staff weren't so hellbent on closing before you are supposed to, they wouldn't have dumped the urn.

3) If My Glass is Empty, Fill it Up

Really what more can I say? Is this so hard to do?

4) Don't Bring the Bill While I am Still Eating

If you bring the check before I have finished my meal, it implies that you want to get rid of me, and is somewhat rude. It also implies that you are washing your hands of me, and that I can expect no further refills. It is also not in your best interests. If I have been contemplating dessert, having a finalized bill pretty much kills the chance that I will ask for anything else.

5) Don't Let the Bill Sit

This is the inverse of the last rule. If I am not ready to go, I will not put cash or a credit card on the check you brought me. When I am ready, and do place my payment, I don't want it to take twenty minutes before you pick it up.

6) Never Ask: Do You Need Change?

If I have a check for $8.21 and hand you a $20 bill and you say "Do you need any change?", it implies you are angling for a $11.79 tip. It's even worse if what I would be getting back is close to (but more than) what I would be leaving you for a tip. In that case it makes me feel stingy for begrudging you an extra eighty cents.

The correct phrase is "I'll be right back with your change". This gives me the opening to say "That's OK" if I intend you to keep everything.

7) Make Sure the Staff Instructions Agree with the Menu

If your menu describes an item of food in one way, make sure the instructions given to the kitchen and wait staff agree with the written description.

For years, the menu at Shoney's described the spaghetti as coming with mushrooms. So I would order spaghetti, and it would invariably come without mushrooms, leading to the following exchange:

I didn't get any mushrooms with my spahgetti

You didn't say you wanted mushrooms

Well, the menu says it comes with them..

The same goes for El Chico, and the guacamole that is supposed to come with the beef burrito..

8) Don't Let the Waitresses set the Thermostat

They are walking around and carrying stuff. It's a hard job, and they are working. I am not, I'm just sitting there gradually freezing to death.

9) If You Must have a TV, Mute It

Sports bars are excluded, I suppose, but if I walk into a general restaurant, I either want to talk with the rest of my party, or if I'm alone, think my own thoughts. I don't want to hear about the news, a soap opera, an infomercial or even the weather I just came in from. On most modern TVs, you can activate a close-caption mode that lets the staff follow their programs without annoying the patrons.

10) Don't Argue

It amazes me that I feel I have to list this one, but it has happened, and flabbergasts me every time.

If I say I need a new fork, don't ask me "What's wrong with that one?". Just get me the fork.

I'm sure you have your own rules that are violated all the time. Leave me a comment, and if I agree, I'll add it to the list!

Written by ted on January 3rd, 2008

Wendy's, 7355 Two Notch Road: 2005   18 comments

Posted at 5:28 pm in historic,restaurants

The Wendy's on Two Notch Road in Dentsville, near the K-Mart and Hess station was the first one in Columbia (at least that's the way I remember it). When Wendy's opened, it had an appealing retro decor: The tables were covered with 1890s newspaper ads, and the walkway was hung with plastic hippie beads and baubles. More importantly, they could make a good burger, the way you wanted it and fast. You placed your order at the register, and by the time you had paid and walked to the end of the counter, your burger was out, hot and customized. This was in marked contrast to McDonalds, Burger King (no matter what their commercials said) and Hardee's. Even aside from getting it quickly, the Wendy's "Single" was larger than a McDonald's burger, and seemed to taste better. Having found a winning formula, they naturally decided to tinker with it. They branched out into other food items like chicken and baked potatoes, added salad bars, and most importantly, slowed down the service. At some point in the 80s, going to Wendy's had become as bad for slow, incompetent service and incorrectly prepared orders as any other burger chain. It's still a cut above McDonalds and Burger King (the jury is still out on Hardee's until I get a chance to try their new Thickburgers..), but nothing special.

I don't know if the Two Notch location was a voluntary closing as part of the general flight from Dentsville (Olive Garden, Kroger, Lizard's Thicket, Target...) or if they just couldn't make it any more.

UPDATE 18 Feb 2011 -- This place is now (and has been for some time) Nick's Gyros & Subs:

Written by ted on January 2nd, 2008

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Bell's Drive-In Corner of Trenholm & Forest: late 1960s   33 comments

Posted at 2:41 am in historic,restaurants

Bell's was approximately in the location occupied by the Rite-Aid drugstore more or less on the corner of Forest Drive and Trenholm Road. I recall it as being more beind the Gulf station (now a Union 76 mini-mart). Certainly it didn't occupy the whole property now siting Rite-Aid.

Until McDonalds came to town (the Garner's Ferry location was the first), Bell's was the only option in the area for white-bag take out burgers. Both Ligett Rexall in Trenholm Plaza and Campbell's Drugs across the street had lunch counters, but not really take out operations. As I remember, Bell's had no dining area, though there may have been a couple of picnic tables outside. I don't recall the burgers much at all, but I really enjoyed the french-fries. I remember one time thinking that they were so good that I kept taking them into the bathroom to share with my father who was in the shower. He must have thought I was crazy, but he just kept saying thanks.

For some reason, I can't recall specifically noting that Bell's had closed or that the building had been torn down. I think it had happened by the time I started First Grade. Since McDonald's was running a promotion (which it did for years) to the effect that it would give a free burger to any kid with only As & Bs on his report card, McDonalds quickly became the focus of all my burger attention, and I had a kid's indifference to Bell's fate.

UPDATE 22 May 2011: Added a couple of pictures up top to reflect more or less where I recall Bell's as being, off to the side and sort of behind the Gulf.

Written by ted on January 2nd, 2008

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