Pittsburgh Magazine, Beaver County Spring 2004
by Jennifer Pesci-Kelly
Just a few years ago, they were considered antiques--out-of-date designs collecting dust in someone's attic. Today, we wear wide-leg jeans, drag Formica tables into our kitchen and raid garage sales for the sake of retro. From knock-off 1950s cars to platform shoes and music revivals, our old vintage stuff is the newest thing.
So when I pull up into Jerry's Curb Service in Bridgewater, I'm not surprised by the face-lift that the 57-year-old restaurant has just received. The restaurant brings back the romance of cruising in a big car, roller-skating waitresses and jukeboxes. "Jerry's is a nice piece of nostalgia, and it has a certain energy when it's jumping," says Dave Guido, CEO of Jerry's Management Co. "People have always had a love affair with the automobile."
Jerry's reminds us that before there was drive-through, there was drive-up--the custom whereby waitresses kindly come out to the car to take your order, instead of forcing customers to yell through a microphone embedded in a fast-food menu to a headset-clad order-taker.
Opened in 1947 by Donna and Jerry Reed, Jerry's Curb Service has undergone several renovations in its time but has remained a staple for local residents during the last five decades. It's become a Beaver County tradition as an after-football-game hangout or as a stopping place during an afternoon cruise. Their son, Bruce Reed, opened and franchised Bruster's Ice Cream (which also has a location next door) before forming a partnership with Guido to reinvent Jerry's as a larger operation.
Last year, Jerry's closed for about two months to replace the building, transforming the somewhat-ordinary exterior to a more dramatic aesthetic. Now, Jerry's is a shiny chrome beacon among a row of waterfront restaurants. The transition was swift because a pre-fab modular building was being built while the old facility continued to fill orders.
Still to be installed are menu boards, which will give diners a clear view of their selection of sandwiches, salads, fries--and the addition of some blue-plate specials, like roast beef sandwiches and creamed chicken and biscuits. "We don't see ourselves as a burger joint--we actually think we're a diner where people eat in their car," Guido says.
My pigtailed waitress enthusiastically buzzes out to the car as soon as I pull up. I'm disappointed that the wait staff isn't on skates, but, otherwise, it's a scene from the movie Grease.
Of course, they're more high-tech, taking orders on PDAs that transmit our selections right to the line cook in the kitchen. "There is new technology and equipment, and we wanted to be more efficient and create a better environment," Guido says. "It was time to update Jerry's."
The carhops buzz from vehicle to vehicle, taking orders before whisking off to the next window. PDAs allow them to get orders to the kitchen--and then to the customers--faster. So while orders are being taken by several carhops working the lot, food runners take the trays from the kitchen to the cars. "It's a culture where everyone is everyone's customer," Guido adds. We created a service team concept where everyone shares in the success."
Judging by the number of cars in the parking lot, Jerry's delivers a lot of orders between 2,500 and 3,000 a week, depending on the weather. So who is pulling up at Jerry's? "We appeal to everyone from kindergarten to 100," Guido says. The evening crowd is between the ages of 16 and 22, with some empty-nesters mixed in. "You also get folks with hot cars who want to show them off."
Once my order is in, I wait in my own retro investment--a new Beetle convertible--listening to music, watching people buzz into and out of the large parking lot and the sun reflecting off the shiny new building. When someone returns with my order, she hooks a tray onto my window--Flintstone-style--holding my burger, fries and fountain drink.
My hamburger is pretty standard, grilled, with pickles and melted cheese, and some fries on the side. But the burger tastes so much better when the car isn't moving.
While Jerry's enables us to slow down and enjoy our food, it's also accelerating the adoption of carhops in the 21st Century by franchising the operation. The Bridgewater location was built as a prototype, and this year Jerry's plans to grant eight franchise licenses that will extend the Jerry's brand. "Franchising is not new to us," Guido says of the Bruster's Ice Cream locations in 14 states. "You need to have a neat package for people to want to invest in something." While there is interest in Western Pennsylvania, management has its sights set beyond this region. "Because of the outdoor concept, we plan to take this to the South, for the climate," Guido adds.
While we're so accustomed to one-stop shopping, instant gratification and fast food, Guido clarifies Jerry's philosophy: "We're not quick service, we're not full-service--we're curb-service."
Jerry's Curb Service, 1521 Riverside Drive, West Bridgewater, 724/774-4727. Open year-round: Mon.-Sun., 10:30 a.m. to midnight.
Jennifer Pesci-Kelly is a contributing writer for Pittsburgh magazine and regular
contributor to Beaver County magazine.