By Marc Katz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
Waitress Amy Kindred waits for them inside the Legacy Pancake House on Keowee Street, asking an early visitor if he wants something to drink before he sits down at a long row of two-top tables, a booth lining one side, a row of chairs on the other.
It’s a few minutes before noon on a Friday. By 12:15 p.m., this section will be filled with ROMEOs: Retired Old Men Eating Out.
These ROMEOs are Jewish or married to Jewish women. Some of them aren’t retired and others would take offense at being called old.
“We try not to get into arguments,” said Franklin Lewis, a retired attorney from Cleveland who helped found the group nearly 10 years ago, “but it doesn’t always work.”
Nothing stops arguments, but the whole thing works because the men are friends (or friends of friends), are all in their senior years and know something (or nothing at all) about the day’s news in sports, politics, and entertainment.
“They’re great people,” said Kindred, who serves the group and knows their names instantly. “They’re well-mannered.”
She takes care of them.
“I know who’s the most impatient and what most of them will order,” Kindred said. “I know what Paul Kulback wants when he comes in the store. I have his check already prepared.”
There is no set time for the meal to begin, and seats are not reserved.
“We try not to sit in the same place all the time so we get to sit with everybody,” said Ed Zawatsky.
“Sometimes, we have so many, a few have to sit on the other side (of the aisle),” Mike Freeman said. “They’re outcasts. They can’t get in the arguments.”
It began with Lewis and pal Steve Renas taking Ron Footer to lunch. This was about 2004.
“Then Jim Levinson was the fourth guy,” Lewis said. “Then Bob Thum. Everyone started contacting people. A few weeks ago, we had 26, an all-time high.”
At first, the group met at Anticoli’s, but when that restaurant moved from North Main Street, other locations were tried. The Legacy was settled on due to its central location, its food, its low prices and plenty of parking.
The group consists of but is not limited to Freeman, Footer, Kulback, Levinson, Lewis, Renas, Thum, Zawatsky, as well as Jeff Albert, Ron Bernard, Larry Burick, Aaron Burke, Ken Elbaum, Dick Flagel, Chuck Fried, Ron Gilbert, Mike Goldstein, George Grampp, Jason Liff, Mel Lipton, David Marcus, Don Marger, Ed Meadow, Dennis Patterson, Terry Pinsky, Dick Prigozen, Ned Rosenthal, Allen Ross, Joel Shapiro, Allan Spetter, Joe Weinreich, and Ivan Zawatsky. Anyone is welcome to join them.
“If you hear someone say, ‘Hey, Shapiro,’ you know you’re in the right place,” said Freeman, a retired dentist who many know as Mike but prefers to be called Manny. “You get to know the history of the Jewish community here. You’ll hear who belongs to the different Jewish groups.”
So far, it has been a males-only lunch, although two wives once showed up with a birthday cake for Prigozen.
Following the appropriate song, the wives were asked to leave.
“I think they ate somewhere else in the restaurant,” Lewis said, “but not with us.”
All the schmoozing comes during the ordering and eating of the meal. By 1 p.m., there is a hurried exit for the door.
“I think if everybody came who has been here at least once, we’d have about 50,” said Lewis, who also noted there were no plans to expand the number of days or add dinners.
“I think the only day you wouldn’t have anybody is if Yom Kippur came on a Friday,” Pinsky said. “You can always get a minyan here on Friday afternoon.”
To read the complete January 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.