Spanky’s owners have dipped their last scoops of ice cream

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 29, 2013

For the past 28 years, Spanky’s has been a place to get your favorite sandwich, a cup of soup and maybe some ice cream for dessert. And it’ll continue to be a sunny lunch spot on the Square — just not with Mike and Vicki Orlando at the helm.
The Orlandos, both 62, retired this weekend after serving Salisbury families for the last several decades. Saturday was their last day on the job. Monica Lefler has purchased the business, and will begin remodeling on Monday.
And — to the relief of legions of customers — Orlando noted, “We are turning over all our recipes. Monica is awful excited about it.”
On Saturday, a simple white poster was taped in the front window that faces Main Street. It read, “Mike, Vicki and Dan, We will miss you! All your customers.”
Customers also had the chance to write best wishes on a sign near the counter.
Some of the kind words included:
“We will miss you dearly! Thank you for all the great food and hospitality all these years. You deserve to retire happily and blessed! Love you guys, The Petre Family.”
“To people who never skimped on quality. Just plain old great folks and great food. Best of luck. You will be missed. Love, Deb and Lou Grossi.”
“Thank you for so many years of delicious soup and sandwiches! We will miss you. Best wishes, the Glassgow (Salisbury) and Wuzzardo (Wilmington) families.”
David Hagy lives across the street at The Plaza, and frequents several downtown eateries. He wrote, “Where will I find what I want to eat served by smiling friends?! Enjoy retirement.”
Gaynell Lambert should have started higher on the sign. Her good wishes filled the right-hand corner of the poster. She used to walk to Spanky’s frequently when she worked nearby, she said.
“They know me by my first name and what I want to eat,” Lambert said. “That’s kinda nice.”
Lambert called herself a creature of habit. She always ordered ham and provolone on rye, with everything, heated.
Charlie Graeber also chooses the same order of a Spanky’s Choice sandwich with broccoli and cheese soup — and usually ice cream afterward, he said. “We just out of the blue decided to come today.”
Graeber ate at the large front corner table with his wife Lori, and their children, Elizabeth Ann and Luke, along with Lori’s dad, Harold Snider, her sister, Amy Shue, and friends Hannah and Carolyn Conway.
Lori remembered walking from her grandmother’s house near the old Y up to Spanky’s when she was about 10, shortly after the restaurant opened.
“What was my grandmother thinking?!?” Lori Graeber said. “Those were the days!”
Glenda Dyson, former next-door business neighbor, stopped in to wish the Orlandos well. Her shop, Just the Thing, has recently merged with Literary Bookpost, so she’s now across the street, one block down. She used to eat here every day, and still comes often.
“I’m happy for them,” she said. “This has been a great place to be.”
By the end of the day, the hustle and bustle was over, and the restaurant was quiet save for the hum of the display cases. The Spanky’s neon sign glowed in the advancing darkness.
“This was a very bittersweet day,” Orlando said, sitting down at a table, joined by his wife. “It really was.”
The couple started telling customers of their plans only five days ago, he said. “They know we’ve been here about forever.”
Orlando’s parents lived in State College, Pa., the home of Penn State, which had one of the few ice cream training facilities in the country. That’s where the Orlandos went to learn their trade.
“We wanted to make our own ice cream,” Orlando said. “We thought we’d also need some food to carry us through the winter months. But the reverse happened. The lunch business became very powerful, and the ice cream did very well also.”
Orlando said the couple has no major plans.
“We have some fun projects that we’ve put off for years,” he said. “For example, we have shoeboxes full of photos we’ve never gotten into albums.”
The couple also has an adult daughter, Dr. Laura Lippard, who lives in Morganton with her husband, Michael, and their 3-year-old daughter, Eliza. The Orlandos definitely plan to spend more time with their granddaughter. They also enjoy hiking together and will be doing more of that.
Vicki Orlando said they also want to do things in the area they’ve never gotten to do because of working on Saturdays — Farmers Day in China Grove, for instance.
The couple will be staying right here in Salisbury.
“We’ve seen families grow up here, and kids have been coming in with their kids,” Orlando said. “It’s sort of surreal sometimes. But I’m sure we’re gonna see most of them around town.”
The restaurant business has a high failure rate, but Orlando listed the keys to their success as paying attention to detail, having a consistent product, and hiring people who care about other people. Their two part-time employees are Jennifer Nixon and Esprit Cameron.
The couple have been married for 42 years, and rarely talked about work when they were at home.
“We tried to keep it separate,” Orlando said.
As the two were finishing up their work, Hagy came from across the street for a short visit.
“I just came to applaud,” said the Salisbury Symphony’s maestro, clapping for several seconds. “I get applause all the time and I wanted to applaud you.”
He gave each a hug, then stepped out.
Outside, the church bells chimed 5 p.m., and Orlando locked the door.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.