As you walk through the door and approach the counter you hear the friendly strains of "Welcome to Deco, may I take your order?" Well, you might not have heard these words exactly. It might have been something like, "Whatta ya have?" No matter what the short-order cook at the counter or the waitress said, you went into a Deco for the food; good food served hot and fresh without putting a severe kink in your pocketbook. Keep in mind that when you hear me talk about getting a complete meal for 20 cents back in the 1930s, the reaction most have is one of utter amazement! A complete meal for 20 cents?!
You can't look at those prices based on how much you pay for food in the 90s because the actual cost of living is quite different from what it was back in the early 20th century. By the time you got done paying all your daily expenses, you might not have had money left for anything. Even though 20 cents seems cheap, after you were done paying the rent -- leaving you with a dollar and come change for the rest of the week -- 20 cents seemed like a lot of money.
The food was always a big deal to founder Gregory Deck. In 1926, he put out a promotional pamphlet detailing his desire to maintain Deco as a symbol of dining excellence. In it, Deck said, "As a youngster of 16 years the "Hot Dog" appealed to me, and was repellent at the same time. It appealed to me because when properly prepared, roasted, placed in a tasty hot roll and appetizingly garnished, it was good to eat. It repelled, because of the poor ingredients used at times, the manner in which it was served; mostly in unsanitary places by none-too-inviting hands."
"I fancied that once the so-called "hot-dog" was lifted up to the place it deserved in the culinary category, it might become really delicious and satisfying, even to the finest folk." When the first Deco Restaurants opened, Deck strived to create the "best Hot Weiner Sandwich" he ever could and was very successful at his endeavors. Business was good from the start. Soon after the hot-dog, Deck added hamburgers, three kinds of waffles, soft drinks of ten flavors, coffee and hot chocolate. Deck was living up to one of Deco's first slogans, "We ALWAYS Satisfy."
Ask any old timer who ever went into a Deco what his favorite item on the menu was and you might get many different answers. "The hot-dogs. They always served them with pickles and mustard." "The coffee." "Those hamburgers were incredible. Fried in butter and served on a toasted roll with a huge slice of onion on top. Man, it was good!" "The waffles. You could never finish them. Some were covered with toasted coconut." "The sticky Pecan Rolls. Whooee , those were incredible!"
What about those Sticky Pecan Rolls? In the mid '30s, the Pecan Rolls were one of the hottest things on the Deco menu. They were about as big as a Kaiser roll and loaded with whole pecans. When you ordered one, the cook would cut the roll and spread butter in the middle. He'd then put a dollop of butter on the grill and lightly fry the roll until it was toasted. When it came off the grill, a generous portion of caramel sauce was poured over the hot roll. "I can still taste those pecan rolls," says Dick Jensen, a retired Buffalo Police officer. "My parents would take me and my sister to the Grenada Theater and after the movie, we'd stop at Deco for those wonderful sticky pecan rolls. They were only a dime."
"Every Deco had the same menu," say Gregory Deck Jr., son of the founder. "You could get a complete meal in a stool restaurant or you could go to the Deco at Delaware and Hertel, sit in a booth, and get the same meal that you got at Main and Fillmore." When Deco opened its commissary at 935 Ferry street, they were able to keep all of their food production "in house". Everything that each Deco got in the restaurant came from the commissary including the hamburgers. So what made those hamburgers so great? Besides the way they were served, Deco's hamburgers were meticulously prepared. Sides of beef would be delivered to the commissary and then butchered right there. They had the right combination of lean beef to fat which gave the burger its special flavor. Most importantly, the meat was never frozen. It was always delivered fresh to each location.
"If you freeze the meat, it loses over 99 per cent of its flavor," says Deck Jr.. "Some of our managers would over-order and they knew that if they didn't sell the meat, it would rot. So they'd freeze it. But if we caught them doing that, boy we'd lay the fist down! Then we'd have to go and show them how to properly order the food because there was no need for over-ordering ANYTHING. When a manager called the office and put in an order, the food was delivered that day and the only time anybody had to double order was on the weekends because we didn't deliver on Sundays. If a restaurant would run short on something like hamburgers, they'd call the office and the supervisor on duty would see to it they got the stuff they needed even if it was after the delivery truck went out. Besides that, a restaurant was never more than a half hour away from anything they needed."
Here's a look at some of the things on a typical Deco menu.
Hungry yet? A Deco advertisement in a Buffalo newspaper said, "When Mother wants fish; Daughter wants vegetables; Son, wheat cakes and you, meat; THAT'S a night for a Deco Family Dinner! 60 cents to 1 dollar. Here's one suggestion: soup or grapefruit juice (!), ham steak with mashed potatoes or french fried potatoes, vegetable, tomato-lettuce salad, dinner rolls, pie or chocolate sundae, coffee, tea (with milk or lemon) or milk, all for 90 cents!"
Ahh. The good old days.
Deco was also famous for offering a majority of their foods as bulk purchases. For example, if you were having a party or just wanted that famous Deco coffee at your own home, you could order Deco specialties such as hot dogs, hamburgers or waffle batter right from the commissary and have them delivered to your door if your order totaled 1 dollar or more. How's that for service?