Original Charlie's Back On Demand, Like An Old Friend

Posted: November 27, 1986

"Original Charlies is Back," says the sign on the white-and-blue building at Kedron and Academy Avenues in Ridley Township. And for many customers of the popular hamburger stand, it is as if Charlie's never left.

"We wanted everything to be the same," said Bernard "Bunny" McDonald, who managed Charlie's for 38 years before it closed about a year ago. He opened the restaurant at its new location after purchasing the rights to the name from his former boss, Charles Convery.

"We tried to make this place just like the other one," McDonald said.

The first Original Charlie's was a blue-and-white shack that stood for almost 50 years at Baltimore Pike and Woodland Avenue in Springfield. It was torn down in the summer of 1985, when PennDOT widened Woodland Avenue.

McDonald and Convery had planned to retire after the building was boarded up. But they received hundreds of letters and phone calls from hamburger lovers, and McDonald decided that "Charlie's should live on."

So he and his wife, Betty, searched for several months until they found a building where, McDonald said, they could make sure "things stayed the same." The chosen spot used to be a Dairy Queen.

Charlie's reopened in Ridley Township on May 21.

Many things are the same at Charlie's - including the old hamburger press that pops out the burgers made according to what McDonald calls "Charlie's secret recipe."

Betty McDonald said she chose the blue stools and the white counter to duplicate the inside of the old stand, decorating the new place in "the Charlie colors of royal blue and white." The original milkshake machine is used to make "real milkshakes with real ice cream," Bunny McDonald said. ''Our black and whites are the best."

The hours are also the same: Sundays from 1 to 8 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to midnight. Charlie's is still

closed Tuesdays. And in keeping with tradition, Charlie's is scheduled to close for the winter Dec. 22 and to reopen sometime in February.

Many of the 12 people working at the Charlie's in Ridley Township worked at the Springfield stand, including Frank Pflieger, who has worked with McDonald for almost 12 years. Pflieger lays claim to a "computer brain. I never forget anyone's order."

He demonstrated his memory one recent Saturday afternoon in the packed restaurant, where, in an hour, he remembered more than 30 orders without writing down a single one of them.

McDonald's son Steve is the night manager, and runs the place when his father is away - which is rarely.

"I never thought I'd be this busy. I didn't expect to work this hard. I'm putting in 10-hour days," McDonald said. "I lost 10 pounds since we opened."

As for the restaurant's namesake, Charles Convery is spending the winter in Florida with his wife, Bea, just as he has done for the last 35 years.

"When he's home he comes in, has lunch and shoots the bull," McDonald said. "He checks the place out."

"I think the place is more popular than ever," Convery said in a telephone interview from Florida. "And you know what I think of Bunny. He's the man. He's there on his own now. What he has to do is get someone like he was to me. But this is pretty tough since he's been like more than a son - he's been like two sons to me and my wife."

Convery said he dropped by the shop anytime he had the chance. "I like to see the customers and see the action. It's the action I love."

Charlie's is action-packed, McDonald said, and the operation has a rhythm of its own. One Saturday, customers waited less than 10 minutes in the takeout line, which stretched across the front of the building.

According to McDonald, the customers are the reason Charlie's is open.

"We see almost all of our old customers," he said, "and a lot of new ones. I was surprised."

"This place is an institution," said Nick Ladd of New Jersey, who works at the Springfield Mall and said he was a regular. "I've been in here once a week for a double-cheese since 1974. It's a real friendly place. Delaware County was never the same when they closed."

Larry Donato, 12, of Springfield, rides his bike to Charlie's to spend the money he makes on his paper route. "The burgers are real good," he said as he devoured two "double-cheese - loaded."

"They're better than McDonald's."

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