Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2011 (3723 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was my retired police pal Paul Johnston who called last week to report the passing of a local restaurant legend.
The Duke of Broadway died last month.
Which is why Paul phoned. It's also why another reader named Shirlee contacted me on the Saturday when his obituary appeared.
"Thomas Anthony Starr passed away on March 28," Shirlee wrote. "He worked at the Salisbury House on Pembina Highway for years. He was a bright light and everyone knew him as Tom. I would describe him as one of our local characters. He worked hard all of his life and I believe enjoyed every minute of it. Having been a customer for years it would be interesting to know more about him."
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Decades before young people worked two jobs because they had to, there was a young man who became and old man working two jobs because he wanted to. Tommy Starr was 17 in 1947 when he moved into the city from the Interlake and got off at the bus depot that was the out-of-town arrival-and-departure hub at the corner of Hargrave Street and Graham Avenue.
The young Starr had arrived, but he wasn't in a hurry to depart. Instead he was lured to the adjacent restaurant with the little red roof. What brought him through the door wasn't the distinctive aroma of a 20-cent Sals Nip and coffee. It was the people who were serving the food.
"They looked like they were having a good time," Starr recalled in 1997, on the occasion of his 50th anniversary with the restaurant chain that defined the taste of breakfast and burgers in Winnipeg for years. "They looked so efficient, I thought maybe I could get a job at Salisbury House."
Starr was hired on the spot as a dishwasher. Less than five years later, he was managing the Sals at Princess Street and Notre Dame Avenue, which is how he came to find his second job.
Firefighters frequented the place, and they suggested he get a career. Back in the early 1950s Starr was making $60 a week at Sals, but firefighters could make more than four times that.
Starr applied and was hired immediately. He intended to quit Sals, but his supervisor convinced him he could work on his days off.
Between flipping burgers and hauling hoses, Starr regularly worked 68 hours a week and sometimes longer when he reported daily for two or three consecutive months.
Meanwhile he married and started a family that, he would say, was not only understanding but supportive of his need to work at Sals. Over the decades, Starr would climb the fire department rank ladder the way he climbed the corporate ladder, rising from the bottom to become a district chief by the time he retired in 1994 after more than four decades. Retired from fighting fires, that is, not pouring coffee.
Three years later, just before his 67th birthday, Starr had a heart attack. Two months later he was at his Fort Garry home recuperating from triple bypass surgery, explaining why he was anxious to hurry back to Sals.
"I love the business," he said.
"You may like curling or golfing. To me, this is my evening out.
"That's just the way I am.
"Don't ever let anyone ever tell you people become successful without hard work. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, it is hard. If you don't apply yourself, you won't amount to anything."
True, but did he have to work that hard? He reflected on that even as he planned to work another 25 years at Sals.
"Sometimes, you think after you've had a heart seizure, you wonder if you shouldn't have stood up and smelled the roses. You've got to decide what you want. I'm not saying my decision was the best. But it suited me."
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Tom Starr was a man who loved being with people, as much as people loved being with him. And over his nearly 60 years at Sals he served all kinds, from paupers to premiers. But above all he entertained the customers, especially the regulars.
"He had a whole cast of characters," his daughter Norma Jean Starr recalled, "and it was his stage."
If there was a defining moment, though, it was the day the motorcade transporting Queen Elizabeth and prince Philip passed by the Sals at Broadway and Langside. And there on the corner stood Tom Starr, blowing a kiss to the Queen and saluting the Prince. Like the ham who served eggs that he was.
Then-premier Ed Schreyer witnessed the antics from the car behind the royal couple. A few hours later the premier returned to the restaurant and bestowed a mock title. It could have been the Starr of Broadway, but Tommy deserved better.
So the the Duke of Broadway it was.
The Duke is dead.
Long live his legend.