Little Chickadee

Another one from my collection. This may be a late Hayes Equipment Manufacturing Company or an early Valentine, it’s hard to say for sure. The cars are more indicative that the shot’s from the late ’30s or early ’40s.  The truck door in the background on the left reads “Gaston’s Chickadee”, a restaurant which was located at 510 S. Main Street, McAllen, Texas and which also sported the “I Ain’t Mad At Nobody” slogan.  More than likely, this was the smaller, highway location of Gaston’s, named Little Chickadee in the same way that yesterday’s diner was named A&G Jr.

A big thanks to the Dinerman himself, Richard JS Gutman for sending me scans of a couple pages of “The Diner” from August, 1947.

“The chickadee is one of the most friendly birds known to mankind.  Because Gaston Wiley desired that all who came in contact with his eating establishment should be happy, he named his retaurant upon first opening it in McAllen Texas 17 years ago ‘The Chickadee’.  The ide worked so well that when he established his three diners in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, he named each of them ‘The Little Chickadee’.

According to Wiley, there are two primary factors which determine the success of his diners. ‘Location is of primary importance. We looked for, and found, locations where we had the opportunity of building a steady round the clock patronage.  And we purposely avoided locations where we could only do a day’s business during peak hours.  We chose locations in small business sections where the employees were free to come and go during working hours- such people as retail clerks, garage mechanics, and the like are the basis of our business.  They make a staggered continued flow all day long.  Being located, also, on the highway, we attract transient trade as well, but we are not solely dependent upon it. This location preference gives us every advantage. We can manage nicely with two employees at each diner.  Since their work is spread out over the day, we do not have to hire an extra for the peak hours.  Thus, we save on salary each week. The second factor for success is to have a feature.  A feature differs from a special’, Gaston explains, ‘in that a special is usually a low cost item which is changed from day to day on the menu.  A feature is a food that is available at all times, that is advertised in or out of the establishment, and that soon becomes identified with the place.  Strawberry pie is one of our features.  Strawberry pie, because down here strawberries have a long season. . . six or seen months out of the year.  These pies are comparatively easy to make.  A pastry filled with ripe, luscious berries requires only five minutes in the oven, and the pie requires very little sugar if care is used in sorting the berries. Topped with several rows of whipped cream, you have a delicacy of which people never seem to tire!’

Each Chickadee serves between twenty five and thirty five pies per day.  The basic supply of twenty five pies per unit is made up in the morning at a central location and is delivered by truck along with the rest of the day’s supplies by 9AM to the three diners.  There the pies are stored in refrigerated units until used.  When the supply is running low, the central point is notified and more pies are made up fresh to fill the orders.  Because it takes such a short time in the oven for the pies to bake, this system can be used without hampering the service at the diners.

The standard feature all year round at The Little Chickadee is waffles – tender, light waffles at any and all hours.  Rich cream and plenty of eggs are used in the waffles to keep the customers coming back again and again. Mr. Wiley feels that the expense of making the batter when these ingredients are high in cost is compensated for at the times of the year when they are cheaper.  For customer satisfaction, therefore, he does not stint on ingredients.

Neither does Mr. Wiley believe in buying wholesale.  ‘We are operating in small towns and depend on local trade.  Besides, I live here and would rather have the good will of the local retailers than save a few cents difference between retail and wholesale prices.  Added to that, warehousing expense would undoubtedly eat up this small saving.

‘We want the best that is available.  When we buy locally, we can see that we are getting the best, which means that we will have no scraps to work up or throw away.  Retailers spread the news that we buy only the best. . . hence we have the reputation of serving the best.  We don’t have to make it known; others do it for us.  And everybody knows a boost never did anybody any harm.’

By purchasing superior merchandice, Gaston Wiley is sure that he is satisfying the demands of the majority of diner patrons, who are willing to sacrifice elaborate table service in order to get good wholesome quality food with quick service.

The three diners were located at No. 1 201 W. Highway, McAllen, TX, No. 2 521 W. Main Pharr, TX, and 10 S. 10th St. McAllen, TX

Scan 126 small watermark valentineScan 126 detail watermark

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One thought on “Little Chickadee

  1. Gaston Wiley was not only well known for his waffles and his sense of humor – but he was locally famous for his fresh strawberry pies. After many years in the restaurant business he became the President of the Pharr, Texas Chamber of Commerce. Marketing was one of his major strengths.

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