At times ignorance can be an asset. I don´t know what made us believe we could remodel the Crocus Hill Market ourselves, but one thing we did know, there was no way we could have chosen any of the three contractors who bid on the job as each of their bids topped the $100,000.00 mark. A huge difference from the $20,000 we had in working capital.
When I explained to Kranston I knew some tradesmen that could get the job done she was a bit leery. The Chatterbox Lounge was not known as the architectural craftsman center for the Summit Ave. Mansion set. Riley the recently released cop killer from Chicago, Bobby the Bookie, and a few other reputations that made most people shiver were enough of a social barrier to keep the other side of Selby out of the saloon.
Keith, however, was a self proclaimed professional painter who showed up daily at the Chatterbox with enough fresh paint on him to make anyone believe he was in fact a painter. We quickly convinced him to squeeze his 300 lbs of solid girth into a small-can-do-it rental company cherry picker that barely fit through the back door of the store and had him paint the 4000 square feet of antique tin ceiling that hadn´t seen paint in 56 years. Twenty-five feet above the worn tile below, Keith was a daily spectacle as he smeared, slapped, and rolled Campbell Soup can red paint on the ceiling tiles. When the first section was completed, we knew that our vision was focused and that eventually, the remodel of the market would make all the difference in our world.
While Keith painted during the day, Kranston and I tiled the floor, one closed aisle at a time, each evening. Mid-way through the project we had the perfect before and after pictures-one half of the store had a red ceiling and black and white tile on the floor, the other half was a step back into the 50´s. And, as though a Fresco were being painted at St. Paul´s Cathedral, customers would stop by to watch the progress.
Aside from remodeling the store at night, we both had to run the operation- to the best of our knowledge, which was minimal at best- during the day. The sales clerk´s would shuffle around filling morning orders to be delivered after noon, Kranston would assist walk-in customers, and Wayne, the butcher, would be cutting meat to fill the orders and attempting to teach me his craft. Joan, the bookkeeper who knew each customer´s address and what their payment terms were from memory would periodically stick her head out from the office to watch Keith paint over the history, smoke, soot, grime and dirt her brother, father and grandfather had watched build up over the years.
Cosmetic remakes are the easiest part of any food operation. We moved the butcher shop to the back of the store where it began, years before. Kranston went on a cooler and refrigeration shopping spree one day and came back with enough knew meat cases, coolers, walk in boxes and freezers to make the design group of any national grocery chain jealous. She had managed, somehow, to get a lease for the equipment allowing us to keep enough of our abundant working capital to keep the remodel going. Keith needed a constant supply of paint and other libations to ward of the chill of winter. With just weeks before Christmas we began telling people we were painting the ceiling in honor of the holiday and that we would be changing the color seasonally. Word spread we might be a bit eccentric.
Once the equipment was delivered and placed, we began to fill the cases with gourmet salads, prepared foods, and a catering department. Since we didn´t have a legal, approved, city inspected kitchen, we cooked on hot plates and a trio of Hamilton Beach Roasters. Eventually dubbed, "Magic Roasters" because of what their contents did for sales they proved to be the beginning of our restaurant empire.
We replaced the old butcher shop with a retail section filled with cooking utensils, china, cook books, an array of French linen. Kranston went on constant antique hunting jaunts and featured her new found ancient treasures from the turn of the century. When Doe Hauser, a local Summit Avenue celebrity purchased a retro diner service for eight for an outrageous amount of money at the time, we knew we were on to something. We thought we had the formula. We figured we were on the road to whatever that road to is. And then it happened.