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August 17, 2001

This was the Elite Hotel Restaurant as it looked in the mid-1930s after owner Walt Kehres completed a new building on the north side of the Perry square.

We speak of “the good old days” and think of them fondly as a period of time when life was more pleasant and relaxed, when the pressures that we know today were for the most part non-existent. We blame part of the current stress on our inflated cost of living compared to that which some previous generations experienced. Lots of things, including personal disposable incomes, have changed (for the better) and that makes today’s higher prices seem more reasonable. But, we think, wouldn’t it be nice if we had today’s wealth and yesteryear’s modest prices? Dream on, friend. Still, there’s no harm in thinking “what if?”

Along that line, let’s peek at some of the prices charged at Billy Reckert’s Palace Café, which for years was one of Perry’s finer restaurants in the middle of the block on the east side of the square. The menu turned up in a collection of articles at Carol Steichen’s shop on the south side of the square, and I thank her for letting me look it over. It is printed on one side of a sheet of heavy green paper. The reverse side is filled with an ad for the O.K. Filling Station, where Shell gasoline was sold for years on the southeast corner of the intersection of Seventh and Delaware. The O.K. Station, by the way, offered 24-hour service.

The Palace Café menu on the other side begins with a statement from the proprietor, Billy Reckert: “It is our earnest desire that the foods served in this restaurant shall be of the highest quality and served to please the most fastidious patrons.” The jovial Billy also had a loyal coffee crowd among his patrons. They gathered at least once daily to discuss topics of current interest in the community. The coffee cost them five cents a cup, or ten cents for a pot. If they wanted a piece of pie, that was an additional ten cents per slice. All of the cafe’s pastry was homemade, the menu stated.

Meals evidently were a la carte. A T-bone steak was 65 cents. Add another 15 cents for french fries or hash browns. Vegetables such as stewed corn, stewed tomatoes, spinach and stringless beans were 15 cents per serving. Perhaps you only wanted a salad. Chicken salad was 35 cents per serving, as was fruit salad with whipped cream, and Waldorf salad. A tomato stuffed with chicken salad was 40 cents. Hungry for a sandwich? Billy served a club house sandwich for 40 cents, baked ham sandwich for 15 cents and a chicken sandwich for 20 cents. Hamburgers were not on the menu. At the bottom of the menu was this statement: “Ten cents extra charged for one portion served to two people.”

This menu from Billy Reckert’s Palace Café probably would have been used in the mid-1930s, when the Great Depression was at its worst and few people ate out very often. The friendly conversation with Billy and his wife, Lucile, attracted many people to the Palace Café during that period, and they appreciated the quality of the offerings as much as the conversation with their host and hostess. In that respect, those really were good old days.