Last March, I published a love note from George Matysik and Doug Moak to Pete’s Clown House in the Frankford/Juniata section of Philly (I’m not choosing one, as tensions about neighborhood boundaries run way too high up there). Though George and Doug couldn’t make it that day, I asked around on Twitter and managed to round up three friends for a breakfast feast. And I do mean feast. We had four He-Man platters, which basically means we had everything, all for about six bucks each. To this day, Pete’s Clown House remains one of those gems that I take friends to who’ve had it with the lines at Sabrina’s or Honey’s.
To my surprise, after publishing the note, I got some emails from some of the descendants of the owners. As far as I can piece together, Sam McKay opened up a restaurant there called Chatterbox in the 50s. He and his family lived above the store (as people continue to do today). In the 60s, the store changed hands to Pete, his wife Helen, and their 3 daughters. Pete’s loyal customers knew his love for clowns, and gave him pictures to decorate with. Today, a neon clown sign hangs in the main dining area. Ronnie (a long time employee) took ownership of the restaurant after Pete, and the legacy lives on at 3878 Frankford Avenue.
Some snippets from my email exchanges:
“I was especially glad to see there was still good breakfast food as my grandfather made the best home fries of all time. It was also funny to read about the upstairs, they lived above the store and I spent a fair amount of time up there when I was very young…With not having been there in around 50 years (horrors!), the details are a little hazy, but to the left where you came in there was a counter with the old spinning stools and ice cream behind the counter. We were allowed to make our own sundaes when they closed for the evening so that made a huge impression on a little kid… You are so right about people not believing what still exists in Philly – I always tell people it’s the land time forgot.”
“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… 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!”