So much of who we are as adults is influenced by where we grew up. The people, places and experiences that we encountered as children, molded our character; and they continue to live on in our memories, silently shaping our preferences, for the remainder of our lives. We all grew up with our favorite places to visit, to eat or to just hang out, regardless of whether we grew up in a big city, a small town or out in the country.
It could be a bakery, gift store, pizza parlor, coffee shop or any number of places people like to gather. The type of venue is secondary to the quality of the time we spent there, but we all have some place that, when we think back, just seems to symbolize our “hometown” and, indeed, our youth. For me, there were so many that I’m not sure I could name them all; but one that really stands out in my mind is Luigi’s, which used to be a pizza parlor. When I was in the 6th grade, Luigi’s was opened by two brothers who immigrated to my hometown from Italy, in hopes of living the American Dream.
Back then, we all had to walk to school. For me it took about 45 minutes, each way. On the way home, I would pass Luigi’s. My friends and I could smell the pizza cooking, and as we looked in the window, we would watch them toss pizza dough in the air. It was so impressive! It was the very place I tried NY style pizza for the first time. I’ve been reminded of Luigi’s every time I’ve eaten it since then.
Throughout my years growing up, as often as I could, I would save some of my lunch money to get the two slices of cheese pizza and a drink for $2.25. If I’d managed to save up a little more, for $2.50 I would get all that plus the curled up pepperoni too!
As I got older Luigi’s became the place to meet up on Friday night after the football game or where we would take a date for something to eat, but when I was a child, I spent large amounts of my time there playing the 2 arcade games they had, which were Pac Man and Centipede. Centipede was my favorite and I could spend hours at a time in there playing it!
Luigi’s is now just a memory. It felt like the end of an era when it closed a few years ago. The two brothers decided to retire, and despite getting several offers from potential buyers, they decided to just walk away, rather than sell the iconic place.
Franklin county has its own iconic places like that throughout the various communities and towns. City Lunch Cafe, in downtown Franklinton is one such place. It’s been a fixture in Franklinton for more than 70 years. It was even featured on The Tar Heel Traveler.
One day, recently, I was out visiting local businesses and it was time to find somewhere to eat lunch. I remembered it having been mentioned to me before, and I had taken a photo of the City Lunch sign about a year ago. I hadn’t been there to eat, but I had always thought about stopping in and trying it, so I decided that would be the day I did.
When I pulled up, they were closed. I was disappointed, but wasn’t sure if it was just temporary, so I hoped I’d still be able to try it another time. I walked further up the street to find somewhere else to grab some lunch. There, I happened to overhear two men talking about Sharon and Clyde Waiden, the owners of City Lunch Café.
It was so sad to hear that both Sharon and, more recently, Clyde had passed away. It was also sad to hear that just like the closing of Luigi’s for me, this marked the end of an era for people who grew up in and around Franklinton during the Waidens reign at the City Lunch Cafe. I mentioned to the two gentlemen that I had never been there before, but that I had planned to eat there that very day, until I saw that it was closed, and that I was deeply saddened to learn why.
They reminisced a bit about their connection with the cafe. They said they could remember when they were younger, that downtown Franklinton was THE place to go. All the parking spots would be filled, and City Lunch was the place to take your date and get a hot dog. One gentleman said the cafe was more commonly known as the Hot Dog Stand, even they also served burgers, fries, and various sandwiches. They remembered that people would go to the movie theater (The Owl’s Roost now,) and after the movie they’d head over to City Lunch Cafe. It was a huge part of people’s routines and their lives.
Both gentlemen said they had hoped the family would keep City Lunch Café open, and they would hate to see something so unique and important to Franklinton just disappear, much like Luigi’s had for me. I am sure that so many people who grew up in Franklin County have fond memories of going to City Lunch Cafe. I am also sure that it isn’t just the place, but the people behind it, the Waidens, who truly made an impact on the patrons, friends and families who still treasure those memories.
We here at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce offer our sincerest condolences to the Waiden family, and also to the Franklinton community who have made the Waidens and City Lunch Cafe part of their own lives.