Stash & Stella Simulate Fine '50s Dining

Mall Eatery Has Real Wurlitzer, Meatloaf

April 14, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Sure, restaurant manager Paul Renaldo could be Stash, waitress Tammy Estrada could be Stella. Somebody has to be at Stash & Stella's diner because Stash & Stella are not around, never were and won't be.

Some things are real at Stash & Stella's at Marley Station mall; somethings are not.

The meatloaf is real, made right there in the kitchen. The fries are fresh cut by hand and the Wurlitzer jukebox really dates from the days when Elvis was a rising star instead of a risen rock 'n' roll martyr.

But the romantic history of your hosts Stash & Stella -- acouple who, according to the menu, "met at a little greasy spoon in Buffalo, N.Y." -- is something else. Like the apparently hand-typed menu with the apparently homespun wisecracks, Stash & Stella are creatures of American marketing, specifically O'Toole's Restaurants Inc., a 134-restaurant chain based in Buffalo, N.Y. They're a corporate personality -- Ronald McDonald with an attitude and a grease-stained apron.

"People come in: 'Are you Stash?' " said Renaldo. He said he sometimes answers, "Well, I can be if you want."

The place opened in November in the mall's restaurant section, a row of franchisers presenting a gallery of familiar faces. Stash & Stella's 1950s decor andfolksiness seemed a might forced, but the place stood out.

According to the menu, typed in old typewriter letters that jump off the line, Stash & Stella were left unemployed when their diner at the corner of Main and Fillmore in Buffalo burned down two years ago. The story, presented as "OUR PROUD HISTORY," says, ". . .it was just Stella &I and Barron, our dog. At Christmas that year we got the whole family to pitch in money so we could open our own place. That place turnedout to be in Cheektowaga, N.Y., in a big, fancy shopping mall where they charge us rent that to poor folks like us seems mighty high -- but I guess that's the big old business world."

The "poor folks" who own Stash & Stella's actually are O'Toole's Restaurants Inc. The 134-restaurant chain based in Buffalo did $120 million in gross sales last year, said Pat Cardamone, operations manager.

Stash & Stella'swas the brainchild of one Gordon Metcalf, the former president of O'Toole's. The text of the menu, including such cracks as "All of the above are served with chips and pickle within one hour or your money back" was created by a group of restaurant marketeers at O'Toole's. The menu is the product of "an awful lot of research done on the type of food served in the '50s," Cardamone said. Hence, the bill of fare leans toward fried food, sloppy joes, meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Alas, there is no Stash, there is no Stella, Cardamone said. Never were, as far as she knows. There is a dog named Barron, but it belongsto the owner of the O'Toole's restaurant here in Laurel. Asked how much of "OUR PROUD HISTORY" is true, Cardamone said "not very much of it, actually. Unfortunately."

Well, there was a diner a Main and Fillmore in Buffalo in the 1950s. The intersection is now the site ofa parking lot. And the first Stash & Stella's did open in the Galleria mall in Cheektowaga, N.Y., a Buffalo suburb. No, there never was and is no Stash & Stella's actually within the city limits of Buffalo.O'Toole's has opened nine Stash & Stella's since 1989: one in Nashville, Tenn., one in Marley Station, the rest in New York state.

Therestaurants, she said, are "doing very well. It's a very good concept. People go into it, and they can relate to so many things."

Muchof the decor is authentic 1950s, installed by a Buffalo firm called Hollywood Hank's: a real, old bright-red Coca-Cola machine, a red gasoline pump, a Faygo Cola sign and an old red scooter hanging from theceiling.

The old Wurlitzer pumps water through its glass veins upfront and blows out such chestnuts as "Blue Suede Shoes" by Elvis, "At the Hop" by Danny and the Juniors and "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis.

"It's a lot of fun because you can dance to the jukebox," said Lee Warren, a 38-year-old computer salesman from Glen Burnie, as he pumped a few quarters into the music machine. He had stopped for lunch, dressed in suit jacket and dress pants, but said "usually I wear my leather jacket when I come in here."

The customers may dance with the help if they choose, but the waitresses are requiredunder the terms of their employment to dance when Ray Anthony on theWurlitzer breaks into "The Hokey Pokey." Sometimes they hoof on the counter. Sometimes manager Paul Renaldo joins them.

"I don't ask anybody to do anything I'm not going to do," said Renaldo, the man whomight be Stash.

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