A joint love letter by Doug Moak and George Matysik to Pete’s Clown House

George Matysik and Doug Moak
Favorite Spot: Pete’s Clown House
Neighborhood: Frankford/Juniata
Address: 3878 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19124

George Matysik:
I am: A scrapple enthusiast born and raised in the Lower Northeast. Part of the Daily News People’s Editorial Board
Years in Philly: All of them!
Current Home: East Falls

Doug Moak:
I am: An accumulator of used books
Years in Philly: 11
Current Home: Graduate Hospital


Our love note:

When you take a ride up Frankford Avenue: past the fancy beer halls, the coffee shops, and the ironic facial hair, the old King’s Highway turns from hipster to Teamster—and from coffee house to…well…Clown House. A greasy-spoon diner crammed into the front of a Philadelphia rowhome, outfitted with bathrooms on the second floor, where you have to compete with the apartment dwellers who share the space. Make a wrong turn and run into an octogenarian watching repeats of Suddenly Susan—if you’re lucky.

To everyone who has ever worked a job where the long hours and daily drama become a vortex of frustration of exhaustion, you know the value of a good breakfast place to share with a good friend on the way to work. Among many typical breakfast spots, Pete’s Clown House is something special.

What is it about the Clown House? Among the regulars, belly-up at the grill, on their way to work like us, it’s a different kind of place. Is it the fact that no one can definitively explain where the name came from? Is it the frenzied staff, bumping into each other, sometimes inexplicably wearing magic marker mustaches, firing back friendly potshots at the regulars while avoiding a collision of coffee trays? The home-made signs on the walls? Or the monster truck parked outside, what’s that about?

The food, despite being as satisfying as any greasy spoon diner, doesn’t seem to be what brings the customers. It has a kind of un-pretentious lack of self-consciousness that has become rare to see in a place trying to sell you something. We would suggest that a restaurant can’t offer a daily breakfast special of two eggs, hash browns, toast, juice and coffee for $1.99, as the Clown House does, without being an honest kind of place. It has the feel of Cheers over hashbrowns with a side of scrapple.

It is also something of an oasis. The Clown House is located on Frankford Avenue too far north to be part of the gentrifying development and too far south to be under the Market-Frankford line commercial corridor. The neighborhood is crisscrossed by railroad beds from nearly every angle, abandoned buildings dot the area, and the old North Catholic High School, once the world’s largest Catholic High School for boys, looms nearby, closed since 2010. On gray days the area looks a little extra gray.

But as the smiling bozo face on the sign indicates, things are a little different in the Clown House. If only for just an inexpensive breakfast, where, as you like, you can either be left alone or get into a brawling debate about the Phillies, it’s not a bad place to start the work day. The Clown House doesn’t take itself too seriously, and really, you shouldn’t take yourself so seriously either. That’s the special sauce in the $1.99 breakfast special, and what keeps us coming back.





(George at Pete’s Clown House. Doug was a bit shy)

Posted on by Emma Fried-Cassorla in Northeast 14 Comments

14 Responses to A joint love letter by Doug Moak and George Matysik to Pete’s Clown House

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  2. Cindi Kordell

    Origin of Pete’s,
    To elaborate and make known the origin of Pete’s Clown House Restaurant…….
    My father opened it in the 1960’s! He would get up at 3 in the morning, ready to serve a hot cup of Joe and a piping hot breakfast to the throngs of blue collar workers who came in before they started their busy work day! Pete’s became an instant success, and before long, my dad shared his love of clowns (esp. Harlequins and Jesters) with his customers! Many appreciative customers started giving him pictures of clowns, which he adorned the walls of the restaurant with……thus the evolution of Pete’s Clown House! He was a dedicated family man, and my mom, Helen, was at his side helping him in the restaurant with whatever was needed……they had 3 daughters, Cindi (me), Denise and Michelle, and we adored our parents, the amazing love they had for each other, and their invaluable work ethic!
    When it was time to get out of the business, Ronnie (a long time loyal employee) took ownership of the restaurant. Kudos to Ronnie for continuing the success, and keeping the integrity of Pete’s Clown House intact!

    • Emma Fried-Cassorla

      Hi Cindi — that’s so great to hear the origin story of the restaurant. I take people there all the time now. I’m going to post this as an update so that others know the origin story. I also got an email from Deb, who said that her grandfather owned the place. Is that your daughter or niece? Best, Emma

    • J Rowe

      As a kid sold papers on the SE corner of Frankford ave and Wheatsheaf Lane across the street from the Chatterbox. The Chatterbox was on the SW corner of Frankford ave and Pike street. The street names change on either side of Frankford ave. I started my position at the age of 7 in the fall of 1962. The chatterbox was sold to Pete a short time later. I would go to Pete’s everyday to hustle the Evening Bulletin and Daily News and sometimes get a bite to eat. Needless to say I came to know Pete quite well over the years. I continued to patronize Pete’s in the 60’s and 70’s. Heck I owned a house 2 doors away for awhile.

  3. Cindi Kordell

    Hi Emma!
    I’m happy to hear you frequent the Clown House! I’m not sure who Deb is, we do not have a Deb in the family…. Maybe she is the granddaughter of Ronnie’s father…..Ronnie owns the restaurant now…..

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