By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Jack Kern is in his customary spot: at the counter of the last White Spot restaurant.
He has been one of the faithful for so long that he forgets when it all started. Eight years ago, maybe? At first he came in for a cup of coffee, but he soon discovered he craved something else entirely. "You want people," he says. "You want the regulars."
Jack makes his regular appearance most afternoons between two and four, when he sits at the counter, drinking coffee and talking with "a couple of fellas, one works in a dry cleaner's, or another fella, he drives here twice a day all the way from Centennial airport, or Eric."
That Eric and Jack know each other's first names indicates an almost unheard-of intimacy in a place where people spend decades together without getting past the point of "hey, fella." But then, Eric and Jack share some crucial common ground: Both are lifelong bachelors, both hate to cook--and both consider White Spot home.
Right now, Jack and Eric are winding up a thirty-minute discussion of the intricacies of coin-op laundry procedure. When Eric leaves, Jack looks contentedly over the thinned-out crowd. Three waitresses and two managers are on duty this afternoon, but most, like the customers, are smoking or reading the paper or chatting. Jack knows all of their faces, but none of their names.
He does not find it unusual that no one in this restaurant is eating.
"Oh, the food is good," he hastens to add, but does not elaborate except to say that White Spot food, while in no way different from that at Denny's or Azar's, is better. "The Mexican platter," he finally offers. "My lands, yes, I do enjoy that."
But his healthy respect for the Mexican platter is not what keeps Jack coming back for more. "I set and I talk," he explains, "and it's not necessarily that we all share things in common, but it's interesting. A few people tell a fish story, maybe, but so do I. At election time, I might argue. But even when I'm hot under the collar, I'm learning something."
And even if he's alone at the counter, reading the paper, he's happy to be at White Spot.
"My lands, yes," he says. "Hours can go by sitting at a counter drinking coffee. And I've noticed something. A lot of people don't do that anymore."
Clearly. Because this White Spot at 800 Broadway, a classic example of the California Coffee Shop school of architecture and once the flagship of a fleet that numbered nine busy restaurants, is now the last one left--and it's not crowded. But its following is fanatical.
"And friendly." Jack is still sipping and thinking. "Is it ever. Say. If you don't like that type of atmosphere, why, I'll try and argue with you."
In 1946 William F. Clements gave birth to the first White Spot, and his wife, Ruby, gave birth to their son.
Tony Clements has been at your service ever since.
"I worked the cash register, washed dishes, I was a busboy," he recalls. "It didn't seem like it came any easier to me because I was the boss's son. Actually, I worked harder than anyone."
"My father met the Colonel on a cruise to Hawaii," Tony says. Soon after, William F. bought into a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise and also began selling fried chicken dinners at his White Spot restaurants. "And the Colonel would stop here on his tours around the country," Tony remembers. "He'd stay at our house and sleep in my bed. He was a pretty imposing character, kind of like Santa Claus. My sister and I called him the Old Medicine Man. He would drive around to all his outlets and fry up a bunch of chicken for the customers."
Although William F. admired the Colonel's style, not to mention his company as a house guest, he was a different sort of restaurateur altogether. "He was not the type to go back in the kitchen and stir up a pot of gumbo," Tony says of his father. "He was a mover, a shaker, a hustler."
William F. had grown up in Louisville, the son of an emigrant father who had escaped Yugoslavia disguised as a woman. Settled in Colorado, the Clements family made their living as bakers, supplying restaurants along Denver's 15th Street as well as Lowry Air Force Base. But this beat appears to have been a bit far from the action for William F., who wanted a 24-hour short-order place of his own. He finally got it in 1946, when he opened the first White Spot in a storefront at 22 South Broadway.
The original White Spot is now a Mexican place called Oscar's, and before that it was a Reese Coffee Shop, "but boy," says Tony, "there hasn't been anything changed in that place for years. I'd go in there and see the pieces of old plywood my father nailed over the ceiling."