For nearly 100 years, Green Shutters has provided seasonal treats to the point when spring finally arrives, customers can’t wait to enjoy their first Hofmann hot dog, Coney or Texas Hot with a side of onion rings or french fries. Then, for dessert, a hot fudge sundae, banana split, a special custard from one of the soft serve machines, or any of the 20 flavors of hard premium ice cream.
After having endured a typical cold, dark, dreary winter, to sit in the restaurant’s picnic area on the first day of temperatures in the 60s is something that does not have to be advertised after the almost century-old eating establishment first opens its doors for the season and turns on the open sign.
During its heyday in the ’40s and ’50s, high school and college students eagerly filled out applications for the few available, highly prized jobs, trying to be the one of the lucky ones who would get to earn good money where most of the action was on warm summer nights. The boys would wash dishes and act as runners, carrying trays of food hot off the grill along with rich, creamy milkshakes to the young women working service windows at each end of the fountain area.
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These girls would be attired in shorts, tight white tops and roller skates to deliver window trays to the cars lined up at the perimeter of the parking lot, where teenage customers were hanging out by their vehicles, car radios cranked to bebop stations and the sound of a new type of music called rock ‘n’ roll, “digging” the fascination of the day, hot rods polished to a mirror finish for the guys to admire and talk engines, giving girls time to giggle about the latest gossip since they last gathered, mingling from car to car.
During that era, the eatery opened a few days before Memorial Day and closed right after Labor Day. How times have changed! Our litigious society has driven insurance costs to the point where girls on roller skates are prohibitive. Car hops are still available on foot, but it’s not the same.
Most customers now sit in air-conditioned comfort or the picnic area, which has expanded from a few scattered tables to more than 20, allowing seating for more than 100 in the garden.
The restaurant added Wi-Fi, along with a flat-screen TV in the fountain area this summer, due to demand today for everyone to stay connected and tuned into what’s happening all the time.
Green Shutters remains the hottest spot in town for a cold beer or glass of wine with dinner and favorite ice cream on warm summer nights, but three months of income will no longer support 12 months of expenses due to the current economy, with dramatically higher costs of taxes, fuel surcharges tacked on every delivery, workers’ comp through the roof, unemployment insurance being handed out like candy on Halloween to anyone who punches a clock (actually signs in on a computer screen) a few weeks and then fills out a form for the state to dole out free money, which pretty much kills incentive for the years-ago pool of eager applicants who took pride in a strong work ethic, utility bills so out of control they are now more than a mortgage payment, and forget about the cost of all the insurance that must be carried, the need for much of which did not exist years ago!
As they say, only the strong survive. People who are serious about supporting themselves rather than having the government support them must work in order to survive, and need a year-round job.
Believe it or not, it is difficult to find many of those people, but Green Shutters is blessed to have five dedicated, passionate, proud year-round staff to convert this quaint little seasonal restaurant into a year-round destination.
Kristen runs the front of the house and has been a key manager for three years, having been trained at Chili’s after deciding her teaching degree did not provide work with the fulfillment she craved. Beautiful inside and out, she loves her customers and takes great pride in overseeing the business, as well as the service end of the operation.
She is the epitome of “poetry in motion,” with her tiny waist, athletic stature, stylish outfits — including boots and hats — as she works at warp speed to single-handedly take orders for and serve 15 or 20 customers during a busy time. Many could not handle the job, but it’s as if she’s saying, “it’s the adrenaline rush stupid!”
Yvonne is the heart of the kitchen. This petite, young-thinking granny is a powerhouse of energy. She loves baking and making “down-home country-style food” to feed friends, family and guests.
Taking great pride in everything that comes out of the oven, off the griddle or grill has her not only cooking breakfast, but on the slower days during the week, also serving it to a growing list of satisfied customers.
Her homemade fresh fruit pies are becoming so popular; she sells almost as many whole pies as she sells by the piece. In this day of production-line everything, she tenderly and painstakingly makes her light, flaky crust from scratch with fruit fresh off the vine or tree to fill one pie at a time. Her pecan and pumpkin pies, as well as her apple crisps, are something you can order in advance to take home or just enjoy one piece at the restaurant.
This is not a high-end, white tablecloth establishment. Nor is it nearly a $100 per person, as my wife found out when she went to an area trendy restaurant that costs $70 for her portion of the bill just for soup and a pasta dinner, with two glasses of wine!
Customers come to Green Shutters for good, old-fashioned home-style cooking, like granny used to make half a century ago, with prices that are as reasonable as any place in town.
Co-worker Jerry DiMora, who is well known in Auburn as one of the best cooks in town, works with the speed and quiet confidence that only comes from skills learned and passed down from generation to generation while still a boy in Italy. He came to America as a very young man without the benefits most kids today take for granted, which explains why he is as handy with a wrench as he is with a skillet.
You couldn’t ask for a better friend, and his homemade meatballs, sauce, Italian wedding soup, lasagna, meatloaf and other contributions are invaluable. He and his lovely wife, Carole, can also be found dining frequently for a leisurely weekend breakfast on his days off (you know it’s good when the cook eats at his own place) just to keep an eye on things, because that’s the way they live in the old country. What a treasure! I knew he accepted me as his friend when he invited me down into his immaculate basement and gave me a couple bottles of his homemade wine.
Yvonne rounds out the homemade foods with her chicken and biscuits, pulled pork, scalloped potatoes with ham, tenderloin tips over egg noodles, macaroni and cheese, chicken with sweet and sour sauce, plus every Thursday, a whole roast turkey with homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry relish.
She has trained her dedicated daughter-in-law, Marie, to both cook and serve while also teaching her the same kind of passionate perfectionism in her cooking as well as customer service.
Marie is just about as sweet a person as you will meet (with Yvonne as a role model), and each day leaves her notes on the prep board addressed to “Auntie Pearl” with good humor and loving energy.
Marie is one of 16 children who lost her caring mother to cancer when she was still in high school, but has pretty much grown up and developed on her own to become a loyal, trustworthy and dedicated friend, as well as devoted co-worker.
They arrive early, work late, have never missed a day, always have smiles on their faces as they cook, and serve and maintain a spotless kitchen. We are so lucky to have them both!
Finally, on weekends, we have the good fortune of having a high school student who has been brought up well and schooled in manners, work ethic and taking pride in what she does. Michaela is a bundle of youthful energy in motion, with enthusiasm and ability to become a valuable employee for such a young girl.
When you have a team of hard-working, honest, dedicated, talented and enthusiastic people like Green Shutters has been blessed to assemble, they must be given all the tools to do their jobs for them to be successful, so the restaurant has been totally winterized with a newly repaired central heating system that will also provide central air in the summer.
In addition, a temporary winter entrance “mud room” is being assembled in the front, with a closed-in porch for the main dining room to provide a buffer to prevent cold outside air from rushing in while keeping the warm heat inside.
In addition, the old cracked and drafty windows are being replaced with new double-pane windows all around the building.
So many people love the foods from Green Shutters, some of which are quite simple to make, I thought it might be interesting for a few of the recipes to be offered for quick and easier items to be tried at home.
Salute and bon appitito!
Bob Leonardi, of Auburn, ran a successful restaurant business, catering, and gourmet food store in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for 15 years
4 cups corn 2 scallions, white and green, finely chopped
4 tomatoes 1 cup onion, finely diced
2 red peppers, finely diced
1 tablespoon green pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
2/3 cup V-8 juice Salt to taste