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Lucy & Ethel's Feels Pinch of Economic Downturn

Owners brainstorm for ways to stay afloat through bad times

is a popular luncheonette on Main Street in Bloomingdale. The establishment has been around for about 40 years, known by different names. Jean Saraceni, of West Milford, and Angela Merriam, of Bloomingdale, sisters-in-law, bought the business 12 years ago, when it was called, "Johnny's Corner."

Saraceni said it was always a luncheonette, and in earlier days, also sold candy and magazines. She and Merriam chose "I Love Lucy" as the theme for their restaurant. They were already nicknamed Lucy and Ethel by people they knew because they were always goofing around.

"We needed a new name and thought it would be cute," Saraceni said.

They kept the counters and stools, bought new tables and freezers, and did some redecorating. They expanded the menu and continued to sell lottery tickets. The original customers continued coming. 

Gordon Johnson, from Bloomingdale, has been coming for 35 years. His brother was once the owner. He lives around the corner, and it's like being at home. 

"I come here every day for breakfast and lunch," Johnson said. 

Merriam says they are known for their homemade pies. Homemade soups are another specialty. Escarole and bean is a favorite. They offer different specials every day, like homemade meatloaf and meatball parm. They have grilled chicken salad, fresh tuna salad, grilled chicken wraps, and fried fish every Friday. They make their own macaroni salad, potato salad and cole claw. 

Saraceni and Merriam have a background in food service, and have worked together for over 30 years.

"We always worked at luncheonettes," said Merriam. "We were involved in every aspect — waitressing, cooking, purchasing, sales." 

Back in the early '80s, they worked at Shopper's Luncheonette in Clugetown, a shopping center in Pompton Lakes that burned down. Saraceni said some of those customers now come here.

The owners switch off between cooking and running the front. Saraceni's sister works on weekends. Other family members working at the luncheonette include Saraceni's son, Anthony, and Merriam's sister, Diana Rhinesmith, both from West Milford. 

The owners put in a lot of hours. The luncheonette is open every day throughout the year, except Christmas day. Merriam said she works 62 hours a week, from 5 a.m. until 3 p.m. daily.

Saraceni said business started out well. In addition to keeping their old customers, they were drawing in new ones, and younger age groups. 

"At first, the economy was good," she said. "It kept getting better. Weekends were great. A lot of people liked our food and were coming in." 

That has changed in recent years. 

"Now it's bad, with the economy," Saraceni said. "We've lost a lot of customers. Mostly the working class. Construction workers who used to come in the morning don't come anymore. We have less people coming in on weekends." 

She said she's had to let employees go.

Merriam said the family used to take vacation together, and pay someone to run the restaurant while they were away, but they can't afford to do that anymore. She said they go on separate vacations, although Saracini said she hasn't taken a vacation in five years. 

Merriam said they have put several ideas in place to make up for lost business. They tried staying open nights, but that didn't work out. Other ideas have been successful, like the pies. 

"We started making the pies about five years ago," Merriam said. "We bake about 100 pies, which helps us around Thanksgiving and Christmas. They've become very popular over the years."

They make four different pies that can be ordered for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter — apple, apple crumb, apple cranberry walnut, pumpkin, and coconut custard. 

Merriam said they started doing deliveries about two years ago, and they do some work with the town and small catering jobs. They came up with the idea of selling lottery gift baskets, which has been very successful. 

"We do about 70 gift baskets for Christmas," Merriam said. 

Despite all their efforts and loyal customers, there is no assurance they will make it through the recession. Saracini says she thinks about it, and what the worst-case scenario would be.

"We'd have to just close up," she said. I can't imagine closing, but we might have to." 

That would be a big disappointment to the many customers whose photos line the walls of the luncheonette.

"It's a place where everybody knows everybody," Merriam said. "We got so many pictures, we started framing them. They're our customers through the years. We blow some up and put antlers on them, for fun. 

"We even get dogs," Merriam said, as she taped a photo of customer's dog to the wall. 

is at 82 Main Street in Bloomingdale. 973-838-5586

Royta November 16, 2011 at 07:50 PM
Always a great breakfast. The banana pancakes so good. They really do deserve better. Unfortunately, they have suffered from the same economic policies that is killing the small business concept. I'll bet Denny's is packed every morning. Not because their food is better, but because they have the deep pockets to advertise and remind / convince the masses to eat there. Lucy and Ethel's has good, home made food and most would support them if they stayed top of mind. Also, public workers, teachers, retirees, warehouse and general contracting types used to fill the place. Now the money for a breakfast or lunch out is put towards gasoline or rent, or $12 tolls to cross the river. So if you think the sacrifices forced on the middle class is a good thing, remember the pinch hurts so many. Maybe we should practice a holiday gift idea that is being spread via the internet. Instead of buying something manufactured in China, give a gift certificate to a local business like Lucy and Ethel's.
J. Strait November 17, 2011 at 04:31 AM
Love Lucy & Ethels! Have gone there for past 15 years or so. The food is great, the service excellent, and the owners are really special people who need community support! Take a look at their menu - the prices are exceptionally reasonable, affordable even in these tought times. Next Friday (Black Friday) shop (& EAT!) at small local & family-owned businesses instead of malls & chain stores!
Ann November 17, 2011 at 11:58 AM
On the other hand, the little "family restaurant" diner in Butler is always packed with people and is very successful. What is the missing ingredient at Lucy and Ethels (where I love the chocolate chip pancakes).?
Frank November 17, 2011 at 03:31 PM
The "BEST" taylor ham, egg, and cheese on a toasted roll I've ever tasted..keep up the fight.
jersey girl November 18, 2011 at 04:29 AM
We need to support our small town stores this holiday. These are the people who have supported us. My plan for the holidays is go to local store for all my gifts, supporting them means a lot to all of us. Thank you.

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