This column is part two of trying to pull together the long story about the long business career of Goodman Kelleher. He published a book about his life dedicated to his “friends, patrons and employees.” He held about every job that existed in the hotel and restaurant business and became a renowned chef. He then became owner of the Majestic Restaurant and the St. Moritz Hotel in Lake Placid and the Clearwater Beach Hotel in Clearwater, Florida.
The following is merely skimming the surface of a very interesting life, starting out on a farm in Beekmantown where he was born in 1894, and then taking any kind of work, most anywhere just to get by. Then the wanderlust took him by the collar and marched him out the door.
It’s all in the book
“When I was eleven years old I used to pick up rags and bottles and sell them to the iron man.”
“My father always had a vegetable garden so I worked hard at that and sold the produce to the neighbors. Finally the garden at home seemed too small, so then I started buying from others and would pull my small cart selling door to door.”
“I still went to school but in vain, for I learned nothing in school. My report cards from school were just a blank.”
At age 15 Kelleher worked for a couple who owned a “a small lunch wagon at the depot” in Fort Edward. At age 16 he worked at the paper mill with his father, getting paid “twenty-eight cents an hour,” but the work was hard and one night on the way home, as he crossed the railroad trestle, he threw his lunch pail into the canal and said to himself, “I will find a better job.”
There was a second lunch wagon in Fort Edward; the man who owned it was discouraged and wanted to sell. Kelleher paid $5 for the wagon and borrowed $50 from his sister to keep him going, and that is how he got into the restaurant business.
At age 17 Kelleher went to work in an ammunition plant in Vermont, but “my mind always went back to the sandwich shop. I was a pretty good cook so I quite the plant job and hired out for kitchen work at the Ruliff House in Glens Falls.
“A French chef was in charge there; he was mean, made me clean the fish and peel the onions and then wash the pots and pans. But I got the best of the old chef and he taught me to be a connoisseur of good food.”
Kelleher then took a job at the Lake Placid Club, “the most fashionable place in the Adirondacks.” He started at $28 a month with room and board, worked with all the chefs there, and then he became the chef at the Lake Placid Club.
“When I went back [to the Club] the next season, a cafeteria was opened and I was put in charge there, to help Miss Bertha Nettleton, a Columbia College graduate in home economics. It seems there wasn’t a thing she didn’t know about this profession. She went on to work for the Child’s Restaurants in New York City. The last I knew she had a career with the General Foods Company.
“There are many boys working at the Club today who have made it one of the finest private clubs of this country and they are to be congratulated and highly honored.
“I often talk to these men of the days passed and recall the names of Deo Colburn, Dan Carey, Frank Randall, George Edgley, Dud Slater, Bert Thompson, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, the Jubin Brothers, Charles W. Holt, I.L. Stedman and others that can be seen giving good service in the hotel industry today at the Lake Placid Club.”
Kelleher joined the Army in World War I and served in France. He met a Lt. Weir, who had been a member of the Lake Placid Club, and he found Kelleher a job as cook for the officers’ mess. Kelleher said “that meant drilling was out in addition to other hardships of military life.”
The Majestic purchase
Now just hold on there; I’m trying to get to the purchase of the Majestic Restaurant, the same name of Kelleher’s troop ship that brought him home from France.
Kelleher had many jobs as a chef, apparently much sought after as he seasonally traveled back and forth to Florida, working for owners of hotel and restaurants in both New York and Florida. He obviously saved his money because he finally decided to go into business for himself. I can’t nail down a date when he purchased the Majestic, but casual research seems to make it around the mid 1920s. I’ll let Kelleher start the story:
“I looked around all summer to find a place to buy but there were not many restaurants in the village. I then bargained for a place on a lease with an option to buy. The Majestic was owned by Patrick J. Hennessy who wouldn’t fix it up, so it fell into the hands of his sister, Mrs. William Alvaney, who had thought she could make a success of it. But she then decided to sell it to me for $12,000. It was only a small shack at the time with four tables and two counter stools.
“I had a talk with my lawyer and he said I would be smart to buy it. A small payment was made and I soon cleaned up the mortgage, improving the place as time went on.
“Today there is seating for 500 people and the restaurant is known from coast to coast.”
(Continued next week — The St. Moritz)