History of the  West Park
Neighborhood
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio

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King of the French Fries

by Gary Swilik


The King of the French Fries reigned at this tiny drive-in restaurant at 13822 Puritas Avenue.  Photo c1950.  Collection of Gary Swilik.
We have in our collection a blurry 1960 photograph of a tiny drive-in restaurant grandly named "King of the French Fries." It stood at the northeast corner of West 139th and Puritas, now the site of a small strip shopping center. We've long wondered who opened an eatery with such a marvelous name so long ago. Surely this forgotten entrepreneur deserves some credit.

Our initial research was frustrating, with no references to King of the French Fries in the usual sources. Eventually we discovered a custard stand was built on the site in 1947 by Henry A. Massman, a tool maker who emigrated from Germany in 1925 and lived nearby on West 139th. He died in 1975 but his son, also named Henry, lives in Parma Heights. "My parents ran the custard stand until 1955," he told us. "They called it Mellow Whip but it was never King of the French Fries when my family owned it."

The original custard stand at the corner of set 139th and Puritas was built by Henry A. and Katherina Massman.  Their sone Henry poses at the construction site in this 1947 photograph.  Courtesy of the Henry A. Massman Family.

 

Construction of Mellow Whip custard stand is nearly complete.  It would later become home to King of the French Fries.  Courtesy of the Henry A. Massman family


In 1956 the custard stand was sold to Clara Bartow. She passed away in 1978 but we spoke with her granddaughter, Dorthiea Preston, of Medina. "I worked with my grandmother at the custard stand when I was about 12 years old," Dorthiea remembered. "We sold ice cream, hamburgers, and pop. At that time, it was a Reed & Bell Root Beer franchise in a newer building. I never heard of King of the French Fries."

In 1966 Clara Bartow sold the custard stand to contractor Basilio Imbrigiotta who built the little shopping center which stands on the site today. We had now traced ownership of the restaurant from construction to demolition without discovering any reference to King of the French Fries. We were stumped.

Click here to see the location at Google Maps


Then we happened across a post on the internet from Jeff Rau, of Chesapeake, Virginia, who reminisced about Slattery's Drive-in on Puritas Avenue. "They had a huge sign across the top that said King of the French Fries," wrote Jeff. "They had great hamburgers with diced onions on sesame seed buns."

Clearly Jeff was referring to the eatery in our photo. Yet the only Slattery's we knew of was Slattery's Delicatessen, a popular student hang-out near West Tech High School over four miles away from the Puritas site. Famous for its hamburgers, malts, and French fries, it was owned by the late Frank I. Slattery. We contacted his son, Kevin Slattery, of Medina, and finally solved the mystery.

Slattery’s Delicatessen at 9115 Willard Avenue opposite West Tech High School was also owned by the Slattery family and far better known than the King of the French Fries on Puritas Avenue.

"We also had a small shanty next to West Tech field, up against the wrought-iron fence," Kevin remembers. "We sold French fries and soda at the Saturday night football games. We'd spent Friday night, and all day Saturday, peeling potatoes. My brother Terry and I would compete to see who could peel a 100-lb sack of potatoes first. We sold the fries in bags, about 20 cents each, in servings of at least half-a-pound. There would be long lines of people reaching through the fence to get their fries. My father, Frank I. Slattery, began calling himself  "King of the French Fries.'"

The Slattery's owned several small restaurants but, as we learned, only the branch at West 139th and Puritas was specifically called King of the French Fries. Surprisingly, it was never listed in old phone books or city directories. We were able to uncover the story behind this little-known diner only through a happy combination of research and good luck.


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Charles C. Chaney
18 June 2014