Wirth Watching - Utah's Classic Lunch Counters

Remember when "Put some spuds in the alley" meant give me side of potatoes?

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - So if you understand the old lunch counter lingo that "cow-feed" means a salad or that "wreck 'em" means scramble the eggs, then you used to eat at a real lunch counter.

Regular customers had their regular lunch counters and ate their regular meals, day after day.

Lots of good stores had them. They were lunch counters. Maybe the biggest in town was at the Kress 5 and dime store. ZCMI made sure there lunch counter was classy.  For nearly a century, this is simply the way many Utahns did lunch.

And you wouldn't open a modern drug store without a good lunch counter. And you wouldn't advertise your drug store without telling the world you served the best around.

Then there were those lunch counters in little buildings dotting the downtown. Perhaps the most known was at 1st South and State Street. It was called ‘Snappy Service’.

It was tucked below the skyline between two buildings. You kind of had to know where it was. And the regulars indeed did know where it was. See this is what a lunch counter was, the same people on the same stools, every day.

And any good lunch counter has a menu that never changed. At ‘snappy service’ that meant spam, spam and cheese and spam & eggs. Or eggs & burgers. Or, just, burgers smashed real good into the grill.

And the best lunch counters had cokes served the right way, right out of the bottle. There were no surprises. It was the same thing every day. And everyone at ‘Snappy Service’ all knew Maury would be behind the counter every day.

Morris Daras, known to all as just ‘Maury”, told me in a 1988 interview his secret was, “the same face all the time. You go into some face food and there is a different person all the time waiting on you. I've been here34 years and they have seen the same ugly face for 34 years.”

Nothing changed at ‘Snappy Service’, you got a spoon in a cup of coffee whether you wanted one or not. And as I said, burgers smashed down real good. And well we can say they marinated in just a bit of grease.

The regulars always ordered the same thing. When they came in, Maury had them already set up. Maury remembered what you wanted every day.

Now one of those semi-regulars was a young reporter who is a vegetarian. That meant the only menu choice for me was a plate of fries. Lots and lots of potatoes cooked up until they were glistening with ketchup and ‘snappy service’. Of course I was pretty much alone in that area.

But there were no hard feelings. In fact i got the honor of honors once. I was invited to smash the burgers into the hot grill.

You see this was the life at a lunch counter, day in and day out. And by about 2:00pm it was all over for another day. But all the same faces would be back tomorrow.

Yes there was a day when eating lunch downtown used to be something you did at an old fashioned lunch counter. But now it’s something you do at a fancy restaurant.

‘Snappy Service’ finally lost its lease in 2001. But a customer from years prior bought the place and moved it along with Maury and the burgers. That customer was, none other than, Larry H. Miller who reopened it at his Jordan Commons 16 years ago.


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