Behind the scenes of a 50s and 60s style snack bar.

Behind the scenes of a 50s and 60s style snack bar.

TIMELESS TREASURE: This watercolor print by Surf City artist Cathleen Engelsen adorns her living room. She says it captures the Holiday Snack Bar of the 1950s and ’60s, just as she remembers it.

Over the past year, there have been several articles about a Beach Haven landmark, the Holiday Snack Bar, and the ongoing controversy surrounding its expanded outdoor dining options. As many know, it is a small restaurant located on the corner of Center Street and Delaware Avenue in downtown Beach Haven. I have been following these articles with interest and decided to write this reflection and reminisce about the snack bar’s bygone days in the mid-50s and early 60s.

I, along with my brother John, worked at the Holiday Snack Bar from 1956 to 1962. I was hired at age 16 as a dishwasher and busboy in 1956 for 95 cents an hour. Back then you had to go to City Hall and get your employment papers and have them signed by your parents. The owners at the time were Miss Betty and Miss Marie Sellers, who were very nice and great to work for. They insisted on being called Miss Betty and Miss Marie.

The next year, 1957, I returned to the restaurant and learned that they needed someone in the kitchen to serve drinks—bottled Cokes, iced teas, and coffees—and also to make salads. I told them my brother was available, and after he came to meet the owners, he was hired, also at 95 cents an hour. (Our pay increased over the years until we were at $1.50 an hour when we left.)

For the next six years, John and I worked in the kitchen with a couple of home economics teachers who were friends of Sellers: Katherine Lowe of Key West, Florida, and Betty Alderman of Newark, Delaware. The waitresses at that time were students from West Chester College and Albright College in Reading. All these young women were home economics majors and wore fashionably designed dresses that they had made as part of their college programs. Miss Betty insisted that the waitresses wear dresses. No shorts or T-shirts were allowed. They lived in the owner’s house on Second Street, just off Bay Avenue.

Mrs. Betty grilled hamburgers and cheeseburgers on the corner grill, and toasted buns with butter on the smaller grill. Mrs. Marie oversaw the kitchen and baked all the cakes and pies. Tordise Anderson worked in the kitchen, doing most of the cooking. Her charming Scandinavian accent was hard for us teenagers to get used to at first, but eventually the “Yim” and “Yon” stuck. Mrs. Anderson had worked in the fast food business for many years and was a beloved member of the crew.

Every Thursday my brother John would go clamming (I sometimes went if the weather was nice) for fresh clams to cut into cubes and add to Friday’s (red) clam chowder. John was paid $2 per hundred clams, plus an extra dollar because he opened them and cut them into cubes for the chowder. In those days, Friday was a day of abstinence from meat for many, so clam chowder and a grilled cheese and pickle sandwich were popular items on the menu. (We didn’t know white clam chowder back then!)

A variety of soups were prepared during the week, including vegetable and pea soup. In those days, the snack bar never served hot dogs or fries; it was just burgers, soups and salads, and a “home of homemade cakes and pies.” On the counter were large wooden bowls of Ritter’s relish and the famous “Miss Lucy” sauce for drizzling over burgers.

The snack bar was open from noon to 8:30 p.m. and closed on Tuesdays. Every Friday at 8:20 p.m., Mr. Frame would come in and order a bowl of soup, a hamburger, a salad, and an iced coffee. (Rats, just as we were getting ready to close the door and turn out the lights after a busy Friday, he would come in! Everyone would roll their eyes as he sat at the end of the bar, eating his dinner.) When he came out the front door at about 9 p.m., we would wait for his plates and silverware to be brought to the kitchen, and we would be ready to leave through the back kitchen door.

In 1960, the Sellerses sold the restaurant to Harry and Betty Armitage of Spray Beach. Their daughter and son-in-law, Sue and Kneeland (“Knee”) Whiting, and daughter Charlotte Armitage were the new ownership team. While Betty and Marie Sellers were polite and proper, Harry and Betty Armitage and their family were carefree and enthusiastic, and a joy to work for. Betty Armitage worked the grill and always had a Coke on hand. We often wondered what else was in that can of Coke!

The Crosta family lived next door, and eventually Angie Crosta came to work in the kitchen. Ann Bumgartner from the city worked in the kitchen and also filled in as a waitress sometimes. Harry and Betty continued the menu and traditions of the snack bar, but made one change, replacing cans of Coke and getting rid of bottles.

Another memory is that every other day we would go to Polly’s Dock to get a 50-pound block of ice (there were no ice machines back then). This block of ice would be placed in a red Coca-Cola cooler and cut into small pieces with an ice pick to put into our Coca-Cola, iced tea and coffee.

Back then, the red and white-trimmed building was simple and unassuming. The only thing on the roof was a snack bar sign above the front door. Inside, there was an octagonal bar with stools. The burgers were always served on wooden plates, and the salads were in wooden bowls. In another corner of the room, there was an ice cream freezer that was always full of five-gallon containers of Breyers ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and butter pecan, all dipped by hand.

The cakes and pies were delicious. They were displayed under clear acrylic cake covers in the center of the room on a shelf attached to the center pole supporting the ceiling. I don’t know where they got the cake tongs, but they looked like a large comb with long teeth. There was white cake with white or chocolate frosting, chocolate devil’s food cake with white or chocolate frosting, and angel food cake. They also baked fresh blueberry and cherry cakes, and a fluffy lemon meringue cake. The dessert special was a shortbread apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The cakes were “homemade.” In the back of the kitchen was a draped cabinet that held cases of Betty Crocker vanilla and devil’s food mixes, which Mrs. Marie Sellers guarded like the plague! I guess “homemade” meant that they were baked on the spot, in the kitchen!

Another house specialty was a tomato and jelly salad with blue cheese dressing. The tomato jelly, molded in cupcake pans, looked like gelatinous V-8 juice and was covered in blue cheese dressing and wrapped in a lettuce leaf. I didn’t like it then, but today I’d happily eat it. We hated the smell of the big wheel of blue cheese that had to be cut, crumbled, and mixed with sour cream.

The hamburger meat came from Marvel’s Market in Terrace, and the fresh vegetables came from Mr. Di Nardo, who had a big van loaded with fruit and vegetables and came three times a week with deliveries of fresh vegetables for soups and salads. The hamburgers were always made by hand, one at a time, in an old press. A portion of the meat was measured out with an ice cream scoop and pressed between two sheets of waxed paper.

There were a few days almost every week when there was a line outside the theater as moviegoers wanted a quick bite to eat before heading to the nearby Colony Theater for a matinee showing.

John and I worked at the snack bar until the early 60’s when I went to seminary and he went to work for Public Service Electric and Gas Co. Our fond memories of the snack bar have stayed with us all these years and we realize those days are gone but not forgotten. I have a picture of the snack bar in my living room here in Beach Haven.

The Holiday Snack Bar today has changed from that bygone era, but it is still a gathering place for burgers and more, as well as homemade pies and cakes. We hope that today’s owners can continue to provide their loyal customers with the traditional snack bar experience. It is certainly a one-of-a-kind place here on LBI, which is known for its small, family-owned eateries. Bigger is not necessarily better! We hope that the snack bar will continue to be a small but important part of the Beach Haven dining landscape – and that others will enjoy visiting this unique eatery and the memories we made there long ago.

James Durkin lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Beach Haven.