Tuesday, March 22, 2016


When they arrived at 5:00 to begin their day he was already waiting. "Couldn't sleep," he said, so he came down, and they opened up so he could get out of the cold. Roy is much more of a regular here than I; he has begun every morning here for years, in the third booth from the door along with his friends Darlene and Mary. John and Carol are the owners, and while she busies herself out back, he makes his rounds of the customers who are really almost family to him and his wife, but it's Patty who keeps things humming. She's the early morning short order cook and waitress, one of those rare individuals who not only can keep a half dozen orders in her head and on the grill, but does it with a smile and running patter with the regulars, whom she knows by name.
Lisciandro's is one of a dying breed, a step back in time to the fifties when the working men and women from the furniture factories and machine shops that lined Allen Street were more than the ghostly memories that remain today. They're all gone, succumbing to the lure of lower taxes, cheaper labor, and better weather in the south. They're gone, but Lisciandro's remains, it's narrow green walls lined with booths on the north, and on the south facing the grill, the lunch counter with its row of high swivel stools.
The folk who fill the booths aren't your young, hip, and moneyed crowd. That demographic gravitates to Starbucks. Except for a few businessmen, I rarely see anyone here who looks younger than fifty, and those are usually accompanied by parents or grandparents. Lisciandro's is the refuge for the remnants of the area's working class and the hardscrabble folk who populate the low income housing within walking distance of their doors. I wonder what the future will bring; the younger crowd prefers the late night places where the ambiance is chic and the coffee comes in more than plain black; add the cream and sugar yourself.
The old photo on the wall shows a smiling Sam Lisciandro, the founder, replete in chef's hat and white smock. Up one side is the date 1954; down the other is 1975. They've been around for two generations. I hope they will be around for two more; if not, the community will be the poorer for it, for they serve up not only good, plain food, but also something that is becoming much harder to find: a place to belong. I've watched my neighbors in the next booth come and go and have never seen them pay for their meal. Perhaps they have an account here, but it wouldn't surprise me if John were carrying them. It's that kind of place, where neither the coffee nor the kindness ever runs out.

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