August 14, 2001
In another age, Perry restaurants were identified as favorites largely because of the personality of their proprietors. That may still be the case, but usually it takes the passage of several years to make that determination. Also, the eating places themselves have to disappear before the rest of us can look back and say, “yes, that was a fine restaurant." Another case of absence making the heart grow fonder, perhaps.
This bit of philosophizing emerged from a recent trip down Memory Lane occasioned by an afternoon of enjoying some newly acquired miscellany at Carol Steichen's shop on the south side of the square. Some of the pieces were from estate sales and others were acquisitions from here and there. A number of wonderful old photographs, showing unfamiliar views of Perry, also were included and we'll have more to say about them later. But let's concentrate on the old restaurants today.
Perry has had an abundance of good eating places, and we still do. But you'll hear old-timers reminiscing fondly about some diners that have vanished. The good ones each had their own coterie of followers, and those who remember them usually pay a little tribute to the men and women who ran the places. For instance, here are some of the restaurants that still provoke sighs of praise from those with long memories: The Palace Cafe' on the east side of the square; the Gem Cafe on the south side; the Elite Hotel Restaurant on the north side; and of course one that is still there, the Kumback, also on the north side. This is an incomplete list, of course. Many good eating places have come and gone through the years, and thank heaven we still have some good ones.
In the 1930s, you went to the Palace Cafe' if you had a friendly relationship with Billy and Lucile Reckert, who ran the place. The Palace also was the local bus station and many travelers passed through there. Or perhaps the friendly personality of Wes Marcy and his excellent chef, Homer Thompson, persuaded you to dine at the Gem Cafe'. The Elite was operated by its owner, Walt Kehres, and in the early years the Rueb brothers were cooks there. In the mid1930s, after the Elite Hotel was transformed from the last frame building standing on the Perry square into a magnificent two-story brick structure, the first story eatery became even more popular. Mr. Kehres' straight-faced sense of humor amused his friends for years.
Just up Delaware street from the Elite was the tiny but beloved Kumback Cafe. It's still in the same location and is operated today by Tony and Marilee Macias, but if you are old enough you can't help remembering the jolly greeting and warm smile offered by its long-time operator, Eddie Parker. Since the mid-1920s the Kumback has held a special place in the hearts of Perry residents and visitors. Eddie himself used to stand at the griddle turning hamburger patties and other aromatic and gastronomic delights with the result that even if you arrived with no appetite you suddenly were seized with a great desire for some of the Kumback's goodies.
How did menu prices stack up in comparison with today in those great eating places? We'll take a look at that in .another Northwest Corner. Meanwhile, bon appetit!