Big Bird at Newark Airport

Newarker restaurant menuJoe Baum was barely 30 years old when he created the first fine dining restaurant located at an airport. It was the Newarker at Newark airport, NJ.

Thanksgiving Day, 1953, was the opening day.

It was a disaster.

Thanksgiving Day dawned, but barely. The airport was shrouded in fog and all the planes were grounded.Newarker restaurant Passengers, who in olden days dressed in high heels and nice dresses, jackets and ties, were grounded.  There was nothing to do. But,

wait!

Joe Baum, and his trusty executive chef, Albert Stockli had cooked up dozens of roasted turkeys, traditional stuffings and gravy, mashed and sweet potatoes, a dozen vegetables…and pies of many–apples, pecans and pumpkins.

Up!, though, was the operative word.  The restaurant was hidden away. Over there.

Up a short flight of stairs.

Across that little corridor. Up five more steps.

And there it was…a sea of beautiful (empty) tables.

Joe Baum did what he always did under pressure. He raced around “like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” And yelled. At everybody.

Then he made a phone call.

Pretty soon a farmer showed up. And released two very large, very angry tom turkeys on the floor of the airport.  They flapped about and kicked up a torrent of turmoil.

“Look at the turkeys,” exclaimed the bewildered passengers. “What are they doing here?”

And pretty soon they got the message.  Thanksgiving dinner was being served Up There!

The Newarker served huge portions of everything: Absecon oysters were listed on the menu as “knife and fork oysters,” because they were so big they had to be eaten with a knife and fork. Joe Baum sold them by the half-dozen, but added a seventh oyster, presented on its own plate just to make sure it was well and duly noted. The New Jersey stuffed beafsteak tomatoes were accompanied by a steak knife.

Within a short period of time, (three years to be exact), the Newarker was serving 1,000 covers A Day, and  grossing $3 million annually — a mighty heap of thanksgivings and takings indeed!

Joe Baum was considered by many to be the restaurateur of the century.

Joe Baum, restaurateur extraordinaire

Joe Baum, restaurateur extraordinaire

William Grimes of The New York Times wrote in Joe Baum’s obituary in 1998: “More than any other restaurateur, [Baum] operated in the conceptual territory where food and theatre overlapped.”

Joe’s parting words to everyone, every time they, or he, left was: “SMILE!”

I worked for Joe Baum for 14 years. On some days he was an ogre. On others, he made me smile.

Food Job: Restaurateur Extraordinaire. Joe Baum created 167 restaurants in his lifetime, including the four highest grossing ones in the US: The Four Seasons, The Rainbow Room, Windows on the World, and Tavern on the Green. He increased the revenues of Restaurant Associates from “the pits” to a colossal $100 million. He was one of a kind.