The Scotchman Motor Restaurant
The Scotchman was a local hangout during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Local teens would come to the Scotchman to cruise and show off their hotrods just as they did on American Graffiti or Happy Days. The Scotchman closed its doors in 1977, but the memories and stories are still alive.
We have found in the Scotchman vault four thirty-second radio spots recorded for KTLK from 1973:
- Radio Spot #1 (mp3 file)
- Radio Spot #2 (mp3 file)
- Radio Spot #3 (mp3 file)
- Radio Spot #4 (mp3 file)
Driving back to the Scotchman Drive-In
by Keith Chamberlain
North Denver- A North Denver recipe: Start with heaps of Choking Cokes, Sloppy Malts and Horrible Burgers. Add several dozen carloads of teenagers, some in fancy hot rods. Mix in a handful of car hops. Marinate in ‘fifties rock ‘n roll. Add a dash of law enforcement, an off-duty Denver cop will do nicely. Blend all ingredients together on any Friday or Saturday night between 1950 and 1977. Serves fond memories for two generations of Northside teens.
Herman “Chris” Christoffers opened the Frosted Scotchman at 49th and Federal in 1949 with a snowman clad in tam ‘o shanter and plaid sash for a trademark and sold soft serve ice cream, the coolest new taste sensation. Hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries and car service were added a year later and ” we were in the drive- in business, ” says Carl Cerveny, who worked for his uncle. When Chris died in 1953, Carl and his mother Martha bought the restaurant from the family and in 1956 simplified the name to the Scotchman. “It became kind of an institution,” says Carl.
Cruising put the Scotchman on the map. “People would drive all night, “says former car hop Linda Conner. ” They’d go down 16th Street ad then come up to the Scotchman. Then they’d go back down 16th Street and come back up to the Scotchman. When they found a parking spot they’d have a Coke and maybe a burger and then go right back down 16th Street.” Their orbit might also take them out Colfax or South Broadway, but the Scotchman always drew them back. Traffic would be lined up for blocks vying for one of the 28 parking slots. “The prime spot was number 28, because if you parked facing south you could see all the cars coming through, “recalls Conner.
Known in earlier times as tray or curb girls and more politely by Carl and Martha as car hostesses, car hops were usually between 16 and 20. The position conferred a certain status, according to Linda, who began toting trays in 1965. “I lied about my age to get the job. I was 15 and should have been 16. My friends would say, “You work at the Scotchman?! Cool!!” Car hops wore white cowboy boots, a plaid skirt and white blouse. “The skirt came just above the knees and I guess that was considered quite risqué for the time “says Cerveny.
We’d stack up 25 drinks on a tray and go from car to car. My arms are still strong from that,” says Conner. “The good ones could take three or four orders out at a time, talk to people and make change,” recalls Cerveny. “They were their own cash registers and were responsible if they came up short at the end of the night. Unless they were pretty darn smart they couldn’t afford to keep working.” Martha Cerveny mothered them. “She had us go to Wendy Ward, it was kind of like a little finishing school,” laughs Linda. “We learned how to walk and do our nails. To be polite ladies. I’ll never forget that one.” Carl adds, “the most important thing was to have pleasing personality. Those were the ones who made the best tips.”
Car hops started at 60 cents an hour in the ‘fifties and most soon worked their way up to 85 cents. A good waitress could double that with tips averaging 10 cents an order. Soda jerks (“fountain boys” in the Scotchman’s polite argot) and cooks earned higher wages but received no tips. Cerveny figures he employed some 2,000 people over the years, most of them North Denver kids. On weekend nights they served nearly 100 pounds of hamburger and used 15 gallons of concentrated Coke syrup. A hot seller was the Hot Kookie, a cinnamon flavored Coke whose name suggested a good looking girl. The Hollywood Coke, flavored with vanilla and cream, was another Scotchman specialty.
Though they worked hard, the kids still managed to have fun. “We had this one car hostess that wore these huge plaid glasses, “recalls Conner. ” She would take them off to go outside, so one of the other girls filled them up with whipped cream and put them on.” A lazy car hop might return from a deliver to find her favorite stool covered with whipped cream. Customers weren’t immune to the pranks. “We’d fill a cup with paper and pretend we were slipping and throw it in the car,” she says.
On weekend nights off-duty police directed traffic. One of them, Les Jenkins, was popular with the kids.” He had a very good personality. He really did a good job of controlling the lot. He was the kind of person who could smile at you and tell you to go jump in the lake and you’d like him for it, “says Cerveny. “Nobody ever got after him. I think if anybody had tried to get in a fight with him, half the lot would have got out and come to his defense.”
Carl Cerveny was equal parts entrepreneur and adolescent psychologist. Clever advertising was part of the drive-in’s mystique. In the early 1950’s, radio spots on KFEL, timed to catch crowds leaving Elitch’s Trocadero Ballroom at evening’s end, poked fun at the Scotchman’s Choking Cokes, Sloppy Malts, and Horrible Burgers. Signs at the restaurant jested, “Our food is horrible, so is the service,” while the menu joked, “Our food is not touched by human hands. Our chef is a monkey.” It was a hit with the kids. ” For teenagers, the first thing was to get a car and second thing was to get a date, ” Cerveny says, ” and the negative ads made us a place where kids liked to go to show off their cars and see who was with who.”
Beneath the humor, the restaurant was all business, grinding its own hamburger and making its own sauces to assure quality. “We always tried to put across a quality product, that’s why we said about the malts, “They’ll hit you like a lead balloon.” We were saying that they had substance to them. We always made sure our Cokes were full of flavor. You had to give value to be competitive.”
The atmosphere at the Scotchman also had teen-appeal. “We didn’t try to be paternalistic,” says Carl. “Some people feel that with teenagers they’re going to try to take advantage of you , but we never felt that. ” Carl and Martha “were just really great role models, really positive in our lives, “says Conner, who met her husband at the Scotchman. “Nino was a soda jerk and I was a car hop,” she says. “One of the things that my husband and I still say is that Carl taught us great work ethic. He and Martha taught us to be adults. Martha ended up being my best friend.” Linda’s mother-in-law Josephine Conner was a cook and manager at the Scotchman and all six of her children worked there. “It was a great experience for all of them. It taught them responsibility, “she says. Her son Nino went on to become a professional chef, Josephine points out proudly.
Cerveny respected his employees. ” we always felt that if we could hold them for a year to a year and a half, that was ideal. Kids have active minds and after they’ve learned everything their mind starts to wander. If someone wanted to leave, we never felt it was personal insult. The best reference we had for future employees was somebody who use to work for us, even if they were someone we had had to let go,” he recalls.
In the early 1970’s, Cerveny spotted a troubling change. His profit margin which had always averaged about four cents on the dollar began to shrink even though weekend nights were busy as ever. Kids were still guzzling Coke but they were buying fewer burgers. For decades, Americans had enjoyed cheap gas but in the late’ sixties prices started climbing. They skyrocketed with the 1973 Arab oil embargo, leaving cruisers with less money for food. Compounding things, McDonald’s, Burger King and neighborhood residents aggravated by the cruising were also squeezing the Scotchman. With rising costs and dwindling ticket averages, Cerveny saw what was coming.
“The best thing in life is to know when you should stop.” he says. “We thought the best thing was to stop while we were on top. Loyal customers were stunned when the drive-in announced it would close. Carl Cerveny and Linda Conner describe the evening of October 11, 1977: “Everybody was waiting to see the Scotchman close. It was kind of like a wake. That lot was jam packed. Across the street was a car wash and there was another restaurant and a service station whose lots were also full. People were saying goodbye. Some were crying. It was very sad. When we closed everybody blew their horns.” Cerveny took his curtain call. “I came out and gave a wave and that kind of ended an era.”