Willoughby: Pies like mom baked tempted Aspen residents during the 1950s
Legends & Legacies
Every time you head downtown, a range of consumable treats compete for your appetite. But if you are on a budget, the choices dwindle. During the 1950s, Edie’s and the White Kitchen sustained locals with a cup of coffee, an affordable meal and quick friendly service.
The two cafes stood a stone’s throw apart. Edie’s inhabited the Elks building, and the White Kitchen occupied the south side of Hyman, midblock.
In the course of an afternoon you could do your banking, buy a day’s groceries, shop at the hardware store, fill your prescriptions, consult with your doctor and your attorney, stock up on liquor and tobacco, pick up your mail, and gab with an acquaintance. No grab-and-go coffee shops served those who worked downtown. Rather, you would sit down at a counter or table at one of the cafes for your coffee break, as well as your breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The White Kitchen opened first, during 1948. Sandwiched between Louie’s Liquor Store and Tiedermans, its location offered convenient shopping nearby. In addition to tobacco, Tiedermans offered an essential, coal, plus items found in today’s convenience stores. The White Kitchen’s founders, the Klusmires, known to locals as Newt and Angie, had grown deep roots in the community. With his two brothers and others, Newt had helped build Aspen’s first ski lift and the lift tower’s foundations. Angie had been born in Aspen. The Klusmires had worked as the first caretakers for the Sundeck, and had lived in a small apartment there.
The remodel of the space to house the White Kitchen featured an all-white interior. Eleven 1950s-style barstools with red revolving seats faced a red L-shaped counter. The menu featured “short order-hamburgers, sandwiches, steaks, pies and pastries.” They stayed open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day except Sunday.
Edith and Clarence Radar opened Edie’s during 1950. They had operated Aspen’s Silver Grill during the early 1940s. They remodeled the northernmost ground floor section of the Elks Building to feature trendy knotty pine. As in the White Kitchen, they chose red barstools with red seats, and arranged 30 of them in a U-shape. They offered a similar menu, too, which they later advertised as Western Food: steaks, burgers, sandwiches and pies. They promoted Edith’s specialty, “pies like mom baked.”
Plenty of customers kept both cafes in business, at similar hours and prices. Edie’s would fill your plate with eggs, strips of bacon, toast, and cups of coffee — two of each—for 73 cents (about $5.70 in today’s dollars). Locals chose their restaurant based on their connection with the owners. Although tourists showed up at times, most of the clientele were regulars. The two businesses competed for waitresses, and often had to hire new ones seasonally, and usually annually. The business was built on friendly service, so they were choosy when selecting waitstaff. Ads for work at Edie’s placed during 1956 called for “conscientious skilled service.”
The Klusmires divorced, and Jim and Sue Ball operated the White Kitchen. The Radars opened a coffee shop in the Glory Hole Motel, and Newt Klusmire operated a few clubs, including Newt’s Abbey. After Clarence Radar died in 1958, the Balls bought Edie’s.
During the 1960s Newt Klusmire operated the Little Nell Café at the base of Little Nell. When the Center of Aspen was built, he managed the food operation there, with Edie Radar as cook.
During that period, I lived in the Cowenhoven building, and when my mother needed me out of the house she would give me money for a treat. My favorite restaurant, Edie’s, tempted me from just a half block away. It offered the best of my favorite fads of the ’50s. Never able to sit still, I loved to spin atop the red stools. I would sip a Green River concoction of fountain soda and lime, and watch the soda jerk serve up the newest rage. Soft vanilla ice cream would ooze out of a magical machine and pile into a crunchy cone with a swirl on top.
The final temptation? Edie’s jukebox. I didn’t have to prime it with coins, it seemed to play Elvis endlessly. The louder bass of a jukebox, at a volume I never heard at home, set Elvis apart from the other ’50s crooners favored by the older generation.
Mother never gave me enough money to buy Edie’s pie. But I didn’t need to taste that pie, because, as Edie said, it was just like pies Mom baked at home.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at email@example.com.
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