By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Nothing that shabby was in evidence at White Spot's grand opening, however. In fifty-year-old pictures the place gleams like a white nightlife oasis, complete with a raised U-shaped counter and a waitress in a Florence Nightingale hat. Still, the whole proposition set William F. back less than four grand, "because he built all the dinettes himself, in the basement, and my mother did all the upholstery," Tony says. "They did it to save money. Our house was always full of restaurant equipment and supplies. I was ten before anyone ever parked a car in the garage."
By then, William F. was on a roll, having expanded within two years of the first White Spot opening. His second eatery was a drive-in at 2000 South Broadway, after which he built three more White Spots. His basic menu of solid, quick American food was catching on.
"People were not gourmets back then," Tony explains. "Everything was made from scratch, and the recipes were as basic as the Joy of Cooking." And just as unmemorable: The only item Tony can recall from the original White Spot is "probably doughnuts, but I'm not sure."
If a restaurant wasn't working--whether because of the doughnuts, the location, or kismet--William F. got rid of it, sometimes selling out to an employee. He liked to keep moving.
"He bought and sold thirty restaurants in his time, most of them White Spots, but including pizza places, bar-lounges and the Kentucky Fried Chicken," Tony says. "And still, he managed to avoid the day-to-day operations of his restaurants pretty well. He always had managers and assistant managers and he went to California two or three times a year, just like you'd go to Paris if you were into gourmet food."
Sometimes Tony went along for the ride. He remembers driving around the West Coast with architect Lou Armet, inventor of the California Coffee Shop style, looking closely at shingles, steam tables and industrial carpeting. In 1961, when William F. built the White Spot at 800 Broadway, he hired Armet to design it.
The result was soaring cement roof lines, huge plate-glass windows, and yard upon yard of Naugahyde--an updated, state-of-the-art diner for a new decade.
"You should have seen it," Tony says. "Real carnival colors, hot pink and purple. It was psychedelic, almost."
By the mid-Sixties Tony was in a position to appreciate that era's coloration, and he spent a few rebel years as a ski bum in Aspen. But then he returned home and signed up for the University of Denver's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. When he wasn't studying, he worked as night manager at the White Spot at East Colfax and Pearl.
"Oh, what a show that place was," Tony says. "It got to be like doing business in Beirut. It was open all night, like all the White Spots. The waitresses would come back and tell me things about the customers, who were strippers at Sid King's, or working girls, or hippies, or whatever."
Looking back, though, it strikes him as a particularly innocent wild bunch. "I tell you," he says, "I'd trade you two crack addicts for a hippie any day."
But in the late Sixties, those hippies suddenly thrust White Spot into the spotlight of a national controversy: whether restaurants had to serve customers regardless of their appearance.
In February 1969, a 21-year-old printer from Littleton sued White Spot for $500 in damages, claiming he'd been refused service because he had long hair. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union jumped into the fray. White Spot's attorney, Dale Tooley, was not cowed. Being banned for hair length was not analogous to racial discrimination, he told a Denver judge, who upheld White Spot's right to demand that its customers be clean-cut.
"We do make it a rule not to serve people who are objectionable to our other customers," a White Spot operations manager told the Denver Post. "You wouldn't want some long-haired, dirty hippie sitting next to you."
The long-haired hippie who'd brought the suit persevered, but the Colorado Supreme Court shot him down in no uncertain terms. According to Judge L. Paul Weadick: "No one would want to eat dinner in an atmosphere of barefooted, semi-dressed, disheveled, unwashed people who throw food about at each other and on the floor and who generally conduct themselves in an atmosphere not conducive to comfortable, restful, relaxed, eating. Good food, well-prepared, well-served, in good surroundings, is the savior of many of us."
Obviously he did not agree with the White Spot pickets who'd told the press that "our dress, hair and life-style are not prepackaged, homogenized and plastic like their formica food."
"Can you believe they took hair that seriously?" asks Tony, whose own gray locks are collar-length and who has just walked past a customer whose hair is styled in the Elvis-in-Vegas model.
Only 22 himself at the time of the dispute, Tony had more on his mind than hair. That spring, only two weeks after Tony graduated from the University of Denver, his father died suddenly when simple esophagus surgery went awry.
"When he passed away," Tony recalls, "there were two restaurants under construction and six running. We had 300 employees. My mother and I became partners and I was in charge of basic operations." (His older sister, who had married a serviceman, no longer lived in the state.)