I grew up in the restaurant business. It’s what my father and uncles knew. It was their American dream. It provided for their families and gave them a purpose.
Their very own first place was the Lincoln Inn Steak House and Banquets in Batavia, a suburb of Chicago. They moved us out of the city and to this small town that had originally been settled by Swedes and Germans, only to now be invaded by these rough, dark haired foreigners. As a young child, the restaurant was my playground. Then later, a training ground. In the morning hours, my sister and I played tag in the large dining room. We’d take turns pushing each other around on the bus carts. We’d play hide and seek searching for each other under the numerous tables. We’d grab the side of a large cardboard box that was broken down, and use it to slide down the loooooong-carpeted staircase leading to the banquet room downstairs. We’d steal an order pad from the office and play “restaurant” taking turns at being the waitress and the customer.
My Uncle Stefano made fresh pasta from scratch everyday, and for a kiss on his cheek, he’d always give us a piece of the dough to play with while we watched him roll it through the pasta maker. As my mom helped to make the fresh ravioli, sometimes she would let us run the spiked wheeled contraption that would separate the ravioli into individual squares. We had to be careful and steady so our lines were neat and straight.
We would wreak mischief in our Uncle Stavros’ bar. He’d have all the bottles turned and lined up just so, and of course we’d ruin that. We’d create concoctions in the fancy bar glasses by playing with the squirt machine that held all the different sodas, and then leave the mess behind for him to clean up. We’d open and close every small refrigerated door in the bar until we found the enormous jar of Maraschino Cherries…. yummo!! We knew we would be in for a scolding from mom when she saw our cherry juice stained fingers and clothes…OH- OH. And, when it was naptime, we’d be tucked in on a thin twin mattress hidden in a far corner of the hat and coat checkroom. Sometimes we’d awaken to a line of coats hung directly above us and to a quiet buzz of voices that were ready to party.
My very first job was at the age of four. I carefully handed Miss Millie the pearl topped straight pins one at a time from a clear plastic box as she meticulously pleated and tucked the crisp satin white skirt around the banquet table where a wedding party would sit celebrating later that evening. She paid me with a chocolate Hershey Bar that she had stashed in her bag of goodies.
At the age of 8, I stood on a large white bucket peeling carrots into the cavernous stainless steel sink. I would take big round thick layers of fresh onion, dip them in a special batter and then dredge them through flour so they’d be ready for the fryer later that day.
As a young teenager, I worked as the “salad girl”. Every week my Uncle Sotiri would pay me $15 in cash, which I had to share with my sister. She got five; I got ten.
When I turned 15, my father trained me how to be a hostess with the ‘mostess’. He taught me how to make cordial small talk with the customers. He taught me how to count back change WITHOUT using a calculator. He taught me how to use the old- fashioned charge card machine. He taught me how to be equitable in seating patrons so that all the servers had their fair share of tables. He taught me how to book small parties in the restaurant’s smaller banquet rooms. He taught me how to look the other way and turn a deaf ear to the very adult antics and conversations of the restaurant employees.
And, so after 13 years at the Lincoln Inn, in 1982, my parents sold their share to my uncles, said good-bye to the long cold dark winters of Illinois, and moved us to Clearwater, Florida where we could bask in the warmth and sun year round. My father didn’t stay “retired” for long. After a year of searching, my parents bought a piece of property in Palm Harbor right off the four laned US Highway 19. With orange groves surrounding us, the only other restaurants in the area were Gingher’s to the south on Curlew and Parker’s to the north past Klosterman.
Thus, TIFFANY’S FAMILY RESTAURANT was born with its specialty being breakfast all day. We’ve been asked hundreds of times over the years, “How did you come up with the name? Is it a family member?” Every decision that was made concerning Tiffany’s was made as a whole family. So, with the TV playing in the background, and as were sitting around throwing out possible names for our new restaurant, the movie BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S begins to roll. And, the rest is history 😉
Tiffany’s is where I finished growing up. It was where my work ethic was solidified as a waitress, hostess, dishwasher, bus girl, bookkeeper….you name it, I did it. Tiffany’s is where we hunkered down as a family during our first hurricane, Hurricane Elena, and kept the doors open until all we had left to serve was pancakes or waffles. Tiffany’s is where I earned my first official paycheck. It was where I was left in charge while my parents went out with friends or took short trips. It was where I was expected to be instead of the wild beaches of Spring Break during college. I taught during the day and worked at Tiffany’s at night.
Tiffany’s hosted many family celebrations… birthdays, holidays, graduations, engagements, anniversaries, wedding showers, wedding rehearsal dinners, baby showers….you name it, we celebrated it at Tiffany’s. My new husband and I worked there together until I was five months pregnant with our twins. Tiffany’s is where my baby girls would run to embrace their Papo and Lale.
This year we celebrate Tiffany’s 32nd anniversary. It’s been a hub for many a family.
It was where my father’s American Dream came full circle.
It is where you can still hear my mom greet our patrons with a “Good morning, welcome to Tiffany’s!”