Monday, June 5, 2017

Brady’s Chuckwagon – Part 1

Food trucks seem to be all the rage these days, providing a wide variety of delicious and inexpensive foods to communities full of people in a hurry.

How did food trucks get so popular? Well, sometimes it's been pointed out that food trucks have their roots in the old chuck wagons that served the cattlemen.

That's why it's very appropriate for me to post this article about Brady's Chuckwagon Catering that ran in the Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine back on July 30, 1972.

It's an interesting article that once again shows how John L. Brady of Brady's Restaurant fame was way ahead of his time with his fleet of mobile food trucks. (I have a lot of great, new material about Brady's Restaurant and John Brady's other business endeavors that will be showing up here on the blog soon.)

The Plain Dealer article is kind of long, so I'm serving it up in two digestible portions.

Teamsters in hotpants
Photostory by Tom Kaib
Midge Gore
There’s a Teamsters unit in Lorain that tends toward blue eyes, various hues of blonde hair and, during the warm season, hotpants. Local 52, Bakery Drivers, during this season, pushes a lot of doughnuts and coffee at plant gates and construction sites on Lake Erie’s south shore.
“It was just a fact of life in Lorain County,” says John L. Brady, “that a boy wouldn’t be caught dead car-hopping. He just wouldn’t and couldn’t make it. He would be laughed out of the county. And this is pretty similar, so I hired girls.”
“This” is Brady’s Chuckwagon Catering, Inc., a 20-route (and expanding) operation he started four years ago with one truck after growing up in his parents’ restaurant business. The girl driver idea is working so well it’s driving competing caterers to such ploys as offering gigantic doughnuts at giveaway prices. But it’s hard to compete with someone like Mildred (Midge) Gore of Vermilion when she jumps out of her little red truck at a stone crusher in the Flats or a construction site at 12th and Superior. She’s a tiny little thing with sky blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair (see cover), a molasses-dipped voice with a Logan County, West Virginia, lilt. She’s filled out like an 18-year-old beauty queen and she can’t not smile.
When Midge hits the changer on her belt and turns her sky blues up into a hardhat with a really sincere “thanks hon, have a nice day,” he looks like he’s been soaking in a vat of Jurgens [sic] lotion for two months. The big cheap doughnut guys don’t stand a chance. One Mohawk high iron worker wants Midge carrying his banner. He put a “Think Indian” sticker on her truck bumper.
But no go. She’s got a husband who runs a service station and races cars and three children, which is why she doesn’t mind getting up at 3 in the morning to drive from Vermilion to Lorain, order her stores, load her truck and be in Cleveland by 5 a. m. That way she can be home by 2 or 3 in the afternoon and be with the kids. And a hard-working smiler like Midge can turn $200 to $250 a week on her salary-with-commission, John Brady says. But the average for 19 girls and one guy is $150 to $200. The one guy is Harry Bell of Grafton, a long-time veteran catering driver who can hold his own with the female competition.
Marge Gencur, another blue-eyed blonde who is a former driver and now supervises routes and is a sales representative, calls Bell “the only rooster in the henhouse.” This is not always true, because Nick Taliano, a college student, fills in during his summer vacations. But mostly it’s girls, in all shapes, sizes and ages. And Brady is happy. His girls, plus Harry, are pushing 9,000 to 10,000 sandwiches a week and 1,500 salads and casseroles. He has between 35 and 40 employees, including a mechanic, and prepares all but the canned food, buns and some doughnuts in the building that used to house his parents’ restaurant at 200 Leavitt Road in Lorain.
He recently went into pizza and has a chicken palace next door. The chuckwagon menu is almost unbelievably extensive and each driver orders what she knows her route wants. She’ll even take special orders for the next day. The top is a half of barbecued chicken or a reuben sandwich at 99 cents. Sometimes there’s even steak, lasagna, beef stroganoff and haddock and flounder. Breakfasts for 75 cents are three scrambled eggs, waffle and coffee with bacon or sausage. It’s all cooked at the commissary and kept at 140 degrees by propane-fueled ovens on the trucks.
“At 140 degrees, everything stays moist,” Marge Gencur says. It’s very similar to airline food operations."
Marge sets up the routes, teaches drivers the geography and trouble shoots. She’s the one who scouts around for the four or five services stations in each city that will make a road call to fix a flat or get a stalled truck going. The drivers just carry the phone numbers, they don’t have to worry about repairs.
Next: Brady's unique solution for preparing and delivering hot, fresh coffee


Lisa said...

I had to chuckle at two (in particular) of the P-D writer's observations concerning the female food truck operator, Midge Gore. ". . . She's a tiny little thing . . ." or "She's filled out like an 18 year old beauty queen . . ." WHAT?!? Maybe it's mainly because I'm a woman, but I find writing like Mr. Kaib's to be sexist, old-school and condescending of females in general. But then again, he wrote in another era.

Dan Brady said...

Hi Lisa! You’re right of course, and I was worried that someone might take offense at the article. But I decided that the interesting behind-the-scenes look at Mr. Brady’s operations was worth posting. And the whole thing is kind of innocent if you think about it, especially in view of what’s been going on in the last 40+ years.