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Chelsea's

By Jean Southworth

October 1998

So long, Steak Soup. Farewell, Brown Derby dressing and sour cream lemon pie. Goodbye, Chelsea’s Restaurant.

Our week in McCall, Idaho was over and I was back perusing the paper to see what local happenings we’d missed. Perhaps it should have been on the obituary page: Chelsea’s was a goner.

Twenty years ago Chelsea’s rescued me from the evil employ of the steak house down Commercial St. Mr. Steak was my first high school summer job and it taught me the finer points of being a waitress. Those points, unfortunately, were pretty sharp: stop watches recording our progress, veiled threats, an atmosphere of distrust. Our managers were all Mr. and we addressed each other as Ma’am and Sir. Never mind that I was 16 years old, I was a Ma’am.

Finally, I wised up and put in an application at Chelsea’s. My sister, Liz, and best friend, Carmon, were already there and I noticed they never seemed nauseous preparing for work, as I was. I knew I could do better. Heck, I even knew Chelsea!

Chelsea was the daughter of Pam and Jack Scott, Jr., and for years I’d been their family babysitter. Jack Scott, Sr. was a longtime Salem restaurant wonder. When Jack, Jr. opened his new restaurant in the mid seventies, Jack Sr. was tapped to oversee the operation, Chelsea’s.

>From the start it was a family-run business. This could have been awful, but the family members were unassuming, unpretentious and kind to the staff. New employees had trouble figuring out who in management was "family" and who was not. And our managers were never "Mr."; they were Bob, Ina, Greg and Jill.

While I disliked rising early for the occasional breakfast shift, I enjoyed encountering Jack Sr. in the back, assembling his famous homemade soups- soups and salad dressings with secret recipes that none of us ever quite figured out. Jack Sr. was always polite and gracious with a carriage more akin to an elder statesman than a restaurant man.

But I was night shift gal, along with the other college students working summers for tuition money. The older, career waitress (we called them"lifers") got first crack at the day shift with more normal hours, andthat was fine with me. At dinner, people crowded the lobby waiting for the homemade food and specialty pies. Customers couldn't tell Liz and me apart. Amway salesmen tried to recruit me and sleazy guys occasionally hit on me, but most customers were agreeable and contented to be out for a pleasant meal.

Late at night, when the last customer finally left, we unplugged the soft elevator music and cranked up pop rock, music to do side chores by. Sometimes the young busboys and dishwashers planned a clandestine midnight climb over the fence of the local pool and invited me along. This, I found terribly flattering, but thought, as a 20 and 21 year old, I should know better.

Later I’d have to pull one of these 15 or 16 year olds from the dishwashing area to escort me to my car, my pockets ripe with tips for muggers. I always worried more about these young men running back to the restaurant alone than I’d been for myself.

At home, Dad waited in anticipation of the leftover pie pieces we purchased for a mere 10 cents each. Melanie stayed up and sewed with me during the late show and then the late, late show while my waitressing adrenaline slowly dissipated.

Going to bed any earlier would have been futile, or worse, may have resulted in a "waitress nightmare." Any waitress will tell you they regularly dream of being the only staff member in a suddenly full restaurant. This dream goes on and on, such that you work a second shift in your sleep- without pay.

Fortunately, at Chelsea’s there were never any real nightmares with our bosses. We were always treated with respect by people like Jack, Sr., who finally passed away last year at a ripe old age. I don’t know exactly why Chelsea’s went out of business last Sunday. Maybe because it no longer was the hot, new place in south Salem. Perhaps years of declining business had finally caught up with it. Maybe, just maybe, the real reason Chelsea’s closed is that the heart went out of the place the day Jack Sr. died. Somehow it seems fitting and I don’t feel so sad driving by the now-vacant building. Yet, I already miss that Steak Soup…

 

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