In my last blog, I wrote about Fulton’s neighborhood grocers. Years ago, you could find one of those small stores every few blocks in our city. The same was true of restaurants and diners. Fulton once had dozens of establishments where you could get a meal or cup of coffee. Some offered ethnic specialties and were often found in neighborhoods where immigrants from the same country gathered. Other eateries didn’t specialize, but they still offered good food at reasonable prices. One of those places was Fry’s Diner.
Located on Fulton’s east side, Fry’s was a favorite destination for a good meal from 1951 until 1977, the years it was owned and operated by Glen Fry. Glen’s two daughters, Rosemary Scott and Glenda Abbate, have shared their memories of their father and his lifelong dedication to the restaurant business through the Fulton Library Memoir Project. Here’s some of what they remembered:
“In 1951, Dad acquired the equipment of a restaurant that had been damaged in a fire,” Rosemary explained. “He opened his own place on East Second Street between Cayuga and Oneida. In 1953 or ‘54, when the city decided to widen East Second, Dad moved his restaurant up the hill on Oneida and worked the rest of his life there.”
Glenda talked about the long hours associated with the restaurant business: “Fry’s was open seven days a week, serving three meals a day, until shortly before Dad died. Six days a week, he’d go in at 7 a.m. and work until 8 p.m. Each day, he would come home around 2 or 2:30, take a nap, and then head back for the dinner hour. A waitress would cover while he was gone. On Sundays, he’d go in a little later and close at noon.”
“People still talk about his home cooking,” Rosemary reflected. “When Dad started the restaurant, Ann Truel was his cook, and when she retired he took over her recipes. Dad had a special every day of the week and Fry’s was famous for his baked beans—people loved his bean sandwiches with ketchup. He was also known for his rice pudding, milkshakes, and ice cream floats made with Hire’s Root Beer. Aunt Edna, his sister, made pies that people loved.”
When both Glenda and Rosemary mentioned how their father kept the restaurant open during the Blizzard of ’66, my ears perked up. I’ve heard hundreds of stories of how central New York survived that storm and wanted to know how someone managed to keep a restaurant in operation during and after it.
“When the snow finally stopped,” Glenda said, “Dad walked to the restaurant. How he was able to get there, I don’t know; the streets hadn’t been plowed yet. But Dad had a lot of regulars who depended on him for their meals, and there were also people who were trying to clean up the snow—the city workers and all—who needed a place to get food. So throughout that storm and its cleanup, which lasted the whole week, Dad never missed a day.”
Both of Glen’s daughters worked for their father; Rosemary began at age 11, and Glenda while she was in high school and college. They got to know Fry’s regular customers. “A lot of the old bachelors, some who lived at a boarding house nearby, would eat at Dad’s restaurant,” Glenda said. “One of the reasons he opened on Sundays was because those men would have had no other place to go for their meals.”
Glenda ended up marrying a SUNY Oswego student, Joe Abbate, a New York City native who’d never experienced small town life before attending the college. When Joe got to Fulton, he was introduced to Fry’s Diner, and he wrote about his impressions of that Fulton mainstay for our Library Memoir Project:
“I will never forget the first time I walked into the place. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, a throw-back to the days of the past; simple and to-the point. This was a mirror reflection of its owner, who always said what he felt in a direct, no-nonsense way. You knew where you stood when you talked with Glen and that’s how he ran his restaurant.
“As you slid into a booth, atop the weary vinyl that had cushioned many a hungry client over the years, the feeling came over you that you were home, and that someone was going to serve you a good meal—not because he wanted your money, but because he cared about you.”
Joe went on to write that he never had the chance to get to know Glen really well, because his father-in-law suffered a stroke right before he and Glenda were married. “He died a few years later,” Joe explained, “but I did learn something about Glen that summed up his life and the way life was in Fulton. When the family was cleaning out the store and settling Glen’s affairs, they discovered a pile of cards underneath the drawer in his cash register.”
Joe and others learned that the stack of cards were meal tickets that Glen had issued to people on fixed incomes. “They were like their ‘tabs,’” Joe said. “They were punched whenever a person could not pay. Then, when they would receive their monthly check or a bit of money, they would pay whatever they could, little by little. Many people never paid. The cash register till may never have been full, but the stomach of everyone Glen met was. He made sure of it.”