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What I Loved About the Zoom Zoom

by Charly Mann


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Bob Isenhower      5:05 PM Wed 3/24/2010

"The Swami"
Phil Newell, Zoom-Zoom manager when I worked there, told a group of us that he knew a guy who could tell us what card we selected from a deck of standard playing card...over the telephone! "No way," we all said. Phil insisted that this guy, whom he call "The Swami," could do it every time. (Usually, there was $1 or so to be made or lost on one of these bets.) So we had to get Phil to prove it, even though it would cost us a buck or two (a couple of hours work at the Zoom). One of us selected a card -- maybe the 10 of hearts -- and Phil placed his phone call.

The phone rang, and presently, Phil said, "Is 'The Swami' there?" and then "Can you get him to the phone?" a couple of seconds elapse, and Phil says, "Hey Swami, I've got some fellows here who said they don't believe you can tell them what card they chosen."

One of us picks up the phone, an the voice says, "Ten of hearts." So we pay up. How in the world had this guy done this bit of magic?

Phil later explained that the guy he's calling is, of course "in on" the trick. When Phil asks, "Is the Swami there?" The guy on the phone calls out suits--Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts... as soon as Phil hears "hearts," he says, "Can you get him to the phone?" At that point, "The Swami" counts "Ace, one, two, three... ten. When Phil hears "ten," he says, "Hey Swami..." And now "The Swami" knows exactly what card we selected.

Phil made a pile of money doing that trick. I hope he shared it with "The Swami." Incidently, I have no idea who the voice on the phone was.

Bob Isenhower      4:43 PM Wed 3/24/2010

I'm not sure that I remember which waiter it was, but I'm pretty sure it was "Eyes," so I'll tell the story as he is actually the waiter involved.

When "Eyes (that was his nickname--Ithink his real name was William Howard) was a brand new waiter, one of the other waiters had spent about a week showing him "the ropes" and making sure he knew what to do (to ensure the maximum tip). At the end of his training, "Eyes" was beginning to wait on customers, with limited supervision. One night, a customer came in, sat in "Eyes" section, and ordered one of the steaks that normally came with fried onions and peas (at the Zoom, only a couple of steaks fit that category; at the Rat, every steak had peas). The customer placed his order, "I'd like the ____ steak with no peas, iced tea, and roquefort dressing on the salad." The waiter wrote down the order, reminded the customer that roquefort dress was an additional 20 cents (a big deal in those days), and left to call in the order. I don't know what the waiter called into the kitchen, but whatever he said, the steak appeared in a couple of minutes, sizzling on one of those 500 degree skillets, with a glob of fried onions and, of course, peas. The waiter took the skillet to the customer, and the customer said, "I told you I didn't want peas." "Eyes" said in all sincerity, "You ain't got to eat 'em." I'm sure it's something his mother had said to him hundreds of times.... We bought that customer's meal that night.

Bob Isenhower      4:21 PM Tue 3/23/2010

Thanks for the memories. I worked at the Zoom with the guys discussed above. I think I worked there for about four years, maybe more, while in college and graduate school. In all that time, I never knew that Willie and Pee Wee were brothers. Rance Gray surely could drink beer, but he couldn't hold a candle to Willie Jackson in that department. Watching Willie drink a beer purloined from the bar was almost like watching a cartoon. If you blinked, you missed it, as he could consume a mug of beer in about 1/2 second, or so it seemed.

Lots of people didn't know that the Zoom waiters (and occasionally us white guys) played softball in Carrboro with Doug Clark and his band, the Hot Nuts. I wish I knew if Phil Newell, Zoom-Zoom manager, is still with us.

Joan Gibson      7:15 AM Sat 3/13/2010

I was a graduate student in botany from fall 1966 until spring 1969 (in the '80's I came back for another degree).

Many of the botany grad students would go to the Zoom. Of course the small strip steak meal on the cast iron griddle was my dinner of choice.

However, the cheesecake has stayed in my memory and I have tried in vain to find a similar recipe. It did not have a crust (I personally do not like graham cracker crusts) and was dry and cakey instead of wet.

If anyone knows the recipe or where to find it, I would like a shout out. I found this site in the attempt.

Nora Esthimer      10:23 AM Wed 9/2/2009

I met my husband on a blind date during Freshman Orientation in the fall of 1969. On our first date, we went to the Zoom and then to hear Archie Bell and the Drells play at--I think--Carmichael.

Sixty-Niner      2:03 PM Mon 8/17/2009

Lines were so long at the Zoom-Zoom that numbers were handed out to preserve some semblance of order and fairness. The strip steak (called the Gambler at the Rathskeller) was the best seller. Those with a heartier appetite could order the double strip. Roquefort (bleu cheese) salad dressing was twenty cents extra. Tea was twenty cents for all you could drink. Apple pie was only thirty-five cents (a dime extra for melted cheese). Beer was on tap (light and dark) and was cheap as well. A modest wine list was rarely used.

The menu also included spaghetti, manicotti, rouleade, ribeye steak (junior or senior). The strip steak was cheap skirt that was both mechanically and chemically tenderized. Otherwise it would have been barely edible.

It was a cheap place to take a date. Five bucks covered the entire meal, including tip, with change to spare.

All the waiters and almost all the kitchen staff were African-American. Some of the waiters' names: Percy Farley (head waiter); Rance Gray; Thin Man; Smooley (Roosevelt Sanford); Pee Wee; Otis Newman; and J.P.

Rance Gray was a favorite, and patrons often would ask for him. Rance liked beer, and by the end of a busy night usually had managed to obtain a pitcher or two from the bar for his own consumption! Often the bartender/cashier was in cahoots with Rance and supplied the golden liquid (or turned a blind eye).

The head cook at the Zoom was Willie, a very large man with a wandering eye. Waiter Pee Wee, a very small man, was his brother.

Waiter Otis Newman's father worked in the kitchen, along with Cheyenne, Herb Paylor, and others. After a tough night management made sure they all received cold refreshment.

The kitchen had one of the first microwave ovens, called the Radar Range.

Bebe Danziger also owned the Rat, the Ranch House, the candy store, the Bacchae, and the Villa Teo. Those with more money (and a car) would dine at the Ranch House. The rest of us chose the Zoom and the Rat.

She employed an African-American to supervise the management of all her restaurants. His name was Robert Brooks -- often referred to as the "Ghost" because he would just suddenly appear!


W Poe      9:46 AM Sun 3/29/2009

What I would not give for another meal at the Zoom. Those really were the days.

L Adams      2:10 PM Sat 3/28/2009

Why did the Zoom ever close? I remember long lines there everyday for lunch and dinner, and it was worth the wait.

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There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.



The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.





The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.





William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.



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The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.



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