40 Years of Boardwalk Fries

Boardwalk Fries is celebrating 40+ years at an event on April 19th in Maryland. A Facebook post got me thinking of how the company impacted my life at an early age. It wasn’t just the fries, the gravy, and the hot cheese that I remember. I remember so much more as a 16 year old.

In 1991 when I turned 16, I needed a job. For me there was no car bought for me on my sweet 16. Car insurance would not be paid for by my parents. I knew how to drive from driving manual-shift riding mowers on a 6 acre lawn weekly as I grew up rural. When it was time for me to drive there were no family resources for me. It was time to work and the first place I applied was Boardwalk Fries in the Capital City Mall in Camp Hill, PA.

I remember applying and interviewing at Boardwalk Fries in the same mall I grew up in. I was paid ‘student wage’ which was a fraction of minimum wage. I got a blue shirt, ball cap, a drink mug, and name tag. I was the only person of color there and probably in the whole mall. The location was run by Lois Tait and Rochelle Richard, a mother and daughter franchise ownership team as far as I could ever tell. There were many duties I learned in that job.

I learned how to open the store. Opening included a bank run to get the previous night’s deposit and any change needed, opening the safe to grab the draw and count it, grabbing whole sacks of potatoes to wash, slice, and prepare via a 3-fryer process, making fresh squeezed lemonades, and making sure all my cups were stocked.  I also had to make sure the cheese sauce was warmed properly along with the gravy.  This would cover opening the store, not running the store.

Running the store mid-day needed more skills. I had to learn how to prepare meats for BBQ beef and BBQ pork sandwiches and later hamburgers. I had to keep a fry basket rack filled with fries throughout the day, and deal with customer service issues as well. I learned how to run for supplies and why we didn’t buy the most expensive paper towels at Ames – this was a business and there was a thing called profit to be mindful of. But then closing time would come.

Closing was the big challenge as everything had to be cleaned and reset for the next day. The fryers had to be cleaned, the counter cleaned, the sales had to be tracked with the potato production chart, microwaves had to be cleaned, the cash drawer had to be counted down / deposited, and of course the floor had to be swept and mopped. There were plenty of nights I used too much bleach on the floor. The saving grace was if you closed one night and opened the next morning you were set – only you had to deal with…you – swirly mop floor patterns and all.

Dealing with me was probably the last favorable part. I was young, impatient, sloppy, the list goes on and on. But I formed my work ethic there at that French fry place, one that I took with me into the rest of my life as I worked at a state run student loan agency in Pennsylvania, a financial services company in New York City, and my own business in Nashville, TN.  

Dealing with me didn’t end with my employment at Boardwalk Fries. When I found Jesus, Rochelle Richard was the first person to invite me to church and the one of the first people to support me on my first short term mission trip in 2005. Dealing with me probably wasn’t easy but it seemed 14 years later she believed in me. So much time has passed since I worked there. I can’t believe Boardwalk Fries is celebrating 40+ years.

As Boardwalk Fries celebrates 40+ years, I have to say the franchise location I worked for impacted my life for decades to come. I learned about the process of running a fast food place, the business of keeping costs low, and most of all, if you closed and then opened only you had to deal with the mess you made of the floors the night before with the mop and bleach.  Here’s to 40 more years of Boardwalk Fries.