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Jack Fogel brought the drive-in to Sarnia

Jack Fogel's two passions, restaurant management and travelling, came to a serendipitous meeting point in 1954 on a honeymoon road trip to California with his wife Betty.

The restaurant owner from Sarnia, Ont., saw roller-skating waitresses bringing food to customers sitting in their cars. He was fascinated. On his way back east, he noticed more carhops, but saw none after the U.S. mid-west. He decided that he and his partners would bring the phenomenon to Sarnia.

Tab's, taken from the initials of the three partners' wives, opened in 1958 and became the place where the town's teens went after a movie or a dance, where they played the outdoor jukebox and showed off their new cars and motorcycles, and where families could bring kids in their pyjamas for a cheeseburger or chicken in the basket.

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"It was just like Happy Days," said Mr. Fogel's son, Dave.

There was still a bit of Sarnia conservatism and a nod to its Scottish past in the waitress attire - no girls on roller skates wearing short skirts. Instead, after ordering from the car-side intercoms, customers had their food brought to them by young women wearing tartan pants with matching Western-style bowties, their tapered pants showing off white bobby socks and loafers.

The carhop was the second restaurant wave Mr. Fogel successfully rode. His first restaurant capitalized on the growing motor vacation trend. He and his partners ran Holliday Restaurant, the centre block of a sprawling one-floor motel. It offered a service that could fill the gas tank, check the oil or wash your car as you dined in the restaurant.

While the motel restaurant and the carhop were emblematic of the 1950s, Mr. Fogel would be just as prescient about what diners of the early 70s would want. He and his partners built a restaurant called Ye Olde Country Steakhouse, replete with low lighting, dark wood, stucco walls, wagon-wheel chandeliers, stained glass and hutches full of antique dishes.

Being greeted by a maƮtre d' or perusing a full wine list was something new for the lunch-bucket culture of Sarnia, but the city took to it with gusto. A local columnist said he "did not come across this calibre of service in this kind of atmosphere anywhere in Sarnia." Lineups and reservations would be constant and executives of the petrochemical industry would regularly bring their clients and families.

Mr. Fogel trained his loyal staff so well that he worked himself out of a job. He was nicknamed The Mortician, as he stood at the end of the restaurant's bar with nothing to do because the place was so well-run.

He sold the steakhouse and the second Tab's in the late 70s and became a consultant.

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Jack Fogel was born in Montreal, one of two sons of Henry and Mildred. His father was a successful butcher in working-class Pointe Saint-Charles, selling meat to the growing Steinberg's chain of grocery stores. His father's siblings, hard-working Jewish immigrants, also had found success. But young Jack, who dropped out of school in Grade 10 to work for his father, said to himself that if he were going to succeed, it would not be by working for one of his relatives.

His career would take pinball-like bounces, as he took on jobs from truck driver to dance instructor, and travelled from Montreal to Florida to Toronto, a city where he was taken under the wing of his cousin, Benny Windbaum, who owned a successful malt shop.

It was just after the war, and Polymer Corp. of Sarnia, which had manufactured synthetic rubber for the Allies, had helped the border town off Lake Huron to become a booming petrochemical hub.

Mr. Winbaum gave his younger cousin some money and told him to set up a restaurant in Sarnia, which he did with locals Fred Garrison and Joe Golab; Mr. Winbaum remained a silent partner for a few years.

The Holliday Restaurant, two Tab's diners and Ye Olde Country Steakhouse kept Mr. Fogel busy for the next 25 years, as he worked long hours and amassed a reputation as a person who could tell from the moment he walked into a restaurant how long it would stay in business. He helped others set up restaurants in Sarnia, served as national director and regional president of the Canadian Restaurant Foodservice Association and then, in the years before he got sick, travelled the highways with a trailer hitched to his pick-up truck, becoming a roving consultant to restaurateurs across the continent.


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Jack Fogel was born in Montreal on July 24, 1926, and died on Aug. 17, 2009, in Phoenix after five years of living with cancer. He was 83. He leaves his partner Carole Zingula, son Dave, daughter Sheri Lynn and brother Danny.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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