ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Located across from Santa Fe Park in Peabody, the historic building stood vacant for about two years before it opened as Shirley B Restaurant and Gifts in September.
“When we came in, we had to redo it all,”said owner/manager Shirley Beckner. “We put everything in, repainted it from front to back and cleaned it all up in the back.”
The remodeling project was accomplished with the help of husband David who, by mid October, was rebuilding a second stove so his wife could soon offer breakfast throughout the day.
“I’m the fix-it man,” David said of his current duties at his wife’s restaurant and gift shop.
Beckner’s history in the food industry spans 28 years in food service at hospitals and nursing homes.
“But this was a last minute deal to open this up,” David said. “We just decided one day to do it.”
In the past, Beckner also ran a gift shop located in her home when she and David lived in Sedgwick.
After discovering the opportunity to lease to own the building that housed the former Turkey Red Restaurant in Peabody, Beckner found a new outlet to sell her collectibles and gifts in a family-style restaurant setting.
The building has an attached apartment with a door to access the restaurant and gift area.
“So we just live next door,” Beckner said. “I don’t even have to go outside, I just come in one door.”
That’s probably an important convenience because when she first opened in September, she was clocking 18 to 20 hours a day to establish her new enterprise.
A grand opening was held a month later, complete with live entertainment by a country-western music group in the afternoon.
To say the restaurant has an extensive menu is putting it mildly.
For starters, the breakfast menu includes 11 combination plates, seven omelette choices, English muffins with three topping options, pancakes and French toast, and a variety of side orders.
“Pretty near everything that comes out of here is homemade,” David said. “About the only thing we’re not making (from scratch) right now is the french fries. But that will change. And I’m getting ready to hook in ovens back there so we can bake bread and all that.”
The breakfast combination plates range from $1.75 for a half order of biscuits and gravy to $6.95 for a breakfast steak or chicken-fried steak served with two eggs, hash browns and toast.
Beckner offered the following recipe for her biscuits-something she’s been baking since she was a little girl.
* * *
2 C. all-purpose flour
2 Tsp. sugar
1/4 Tsp. salt
2/3 C. milk
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 Tsp. cream of tarter
1/2 C. shortening (margarine or butter)
In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, cream of tartar and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Make a well in the center, add milk all at once. Stir just until dough clings together.
On a lightly floured surface, knead dough gently for 10 to 12 strokes. Roll or pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, dipping cutter into flour between cuts.
Transfer biscuits to a baking sheet. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.
* * *
The recipe must be a hit with patrons because the biscuits and gravy are one of the breakfast-menu favorites, Beckner said.
Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., when the sandwiches and dinner items become available until 2 p.m. and are offered again from 5 p.m. to closing.
The dinner-menu meals come with a salad, potato, vegetable and bread or rolls.
“The choice of salads is tossed salad, cottage cheese, applesauce or mixed fruit; choice of potatoes are fried, boiled or mashed; and vegetables are green beans, corn, carrots or peas,” Beckner said. “The roast beef and the chicken-fried steak are the biggest sellers.”
Dinner-menu prices begin at $5.09, and some are available in one-half portions.
Although listed as Kiddie Baskets, the children’s menu is for all ages. Served with french fries, a variety of eight baskets is available, such as hamburgers, grilled cheese, corn dogs and fish sandwiches.
The standout on the regular sandwich menu is the hot-beef sandwich, Beckner said.
Cook Jean Fowler’s creation begins with a bed of bread topped with beef and another slice of bread. She cuts that diagonally, nestles homemade mashed potatoes between the halves, and tops it with gravy.
Hamburgers fixed several different ways are available including a Clintonia Burger of two 5-ounce-beef patties with cheese, served open face with chili and french fries for $6.09.
Salads and side orders can be individually ordered. And soups, such as chicken-noodle, tomato and vegetable will be available to warm patrons in the cold winter months ahead.
Establishing a tradition of offering homemade items, Beckner walks over to her restaurant around 3 a.m. to begin preparing for the day’s crowd. And when it’s time to bake pies, she can be found in her kitchen baking cherry, apple or peach pies.
The menu is broad because Beckner said she wants to offer a variety to stave off the boredom found on typical limited menus.
“We want people to have a choice of different things to eat,” she said.
Specials are posted on a board at the front of the restaurant and feature menu items at special prices on a regular basis.
As part of her duties as owner and manager, Beckner can be found back in the kitchen cooking, baking and washing dishes; in the gift shop at the front of the restaurant; and waiting tables.
She relies on help from two employees, Fowler as cook, and Mary Ann Fistler as assistant and waitress.
“My girls are real good,” Beckner said. “Sometimes they tell me to get out of here and take a nap.”
She and her crew take care of a facility that seats from 72 to 104 people in addition to the space occupied by the gift shop.
“They’re collectibles,” she said about the items for sale. “Some of the things I’ve picked up at auctions and garage sales, and some I get out of California.”
Beckner described her restaurant as homey with good food at reasonable prices and accessible to the handicapped.
Plans include the possibility of a salad bar, a buffet table and two stoves operational so patrons can order breakfast at any time.
“That’s what we’re looking at,” Beckner said. “We’re looking to start serving breakfast the hours we’re open.”
Recalling her opening in September, Beckner said she’s worked out any initial problems experienced in a first-time venture and welcomes people from far and wide to visit and enjoy her food.
“We just serve plenty of food,” she said. “Our goal is to go out and make people satisfied and keep them coming back.”