Interview with Peter Merisotis
Conducted by Edward Manbeck
George’s Subs and Pizza, Carlisle, Pa
October 30, 2007
This interview of Mr. Merisotis is the second of two interviews I conducted with him. The first interview was informal, however in the best interest of Mr. Merisotis’ time, I decided not to re-interview him on several of the questions he answered in the previous interview. Rather, this is strictly the second interview with Mr. Merisotis. This being said, the following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Mr. Peter Merisotis on October 30, 2007. The interview took place in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and was conducted by Edward Manbeck as part of an oral history research project for an American Studies class: “Workshop in Field Methods.”
Mr. Manbeck: Alright, so one of the things we didn’t discuss last time was how your father basically decided to come here, and what his thought process was in order to move to Carlisle and open an Italian restaurant…
Mr. Merisotis: Okay, he started out in Derry, New Hampshire. After he got out of the Navy, in ’48, he opened his first sandwich shop. He went through a nasty divorce, and he was just really down and out, and his Navy buddy showed up out of nowhere, started talking to him, finding out what was going on, and he said, “Pack up your stuff, your coming with me.” And so he did, he came here to Carlisle, met Dick Kruger, who was running Kruger’s Dairy, here in this building. Dick was looking to get out of the business, and my father had basically sold everything to pay off his debts and was here without any money and he shook Dick Kruger’s hand and took over the building and brought his sandwiches in, in addition to the ice cream, and then a couple years later added the pizza. He made friends with an Italian guy, on the other side of town, and he didn’t want to sell pizza while the other guy was still in business. And he was talking to him one day, found out he was moving up to New York, and then he closed shop, and that’s when my Dad put the pizza in. It’s kind of like that old school respect type thing. Yeah, that’s the story of that. And then he had a closet in the back here, [George’s], showered in the basement, had a cot, a shelf, a light, and a Bible. He worked like 16-20 hour days, at least, and he would close at around midnight and open up at 6 a.m. So, it was a job. The first three years, that’s how he lived, because he didn’t feel that he could afford to live in the apartments he had upstairs here, and after three years he took one of the apartments.
Mr. Manbeck: So, have there been any other restaurants like this that have tried to come in the downtown area that you can remember?
Mr. Merisotis: Yeah, let’s see, House of Pizza was up here where the extension to the library is. Right around the corner, there was Luigi’s, St. Charles, they had pizza and subs. Ah, a bunch have come and gone on Hanover Street there. We even had one guy open up the street that said he was coming into town, and my Dad was going to be going out of business. And my Dad was like hey, ya know, it’s a free country and good luck to you. That guy happened to die five years later of a heart attack, so you never know, so cockiness is probably not a good way to approach things, and my father’s personal opinion was that God was on his side, in business as long as he worked hard, so that saw him through a lot of tough times. So, that’s basically the story behind that.
Mr. Manbeck: And when he came here, was there any kind of Italian community prevalent here?
Mr. Merisotis: Not really, mostly Greek.
Mr. Manbeck: So the Hamilton, and now there’s Back Door Café…
Mr. Merisotis: St. Charles, yeah Back Door had, his family used to have Sera’s Cleaners down here, and then he, his passion was food, and so he opened up the Back Door up here, which is a really nice place.
Mr. Manbeck: Okay, I know last time we talked about how every store that’s in Carlisle now has a kind of niche, and as a result, Wal-Mart hasn’t really affected it at all, so what do you think of what’s happened over the past ten years or so, and what do you think the future holds for downtown Carlisle?
Mr. Merisotis: I see more restaurants, your boutique shops, Clothes Vine down here has done very well, and there are some nice setups on Pomfret Street. We need to focus on parking, parking capacity, and we need to focus on customer service, because that’s the thing that we have that the big stores don’t have is that personal relationships, and the big chains have their big niche, which is their price market.
Mr. Merisotis gets called into the back to address an issue one of his employees has called to his attention
Mr. Manbeck: So, you were talking about the history, and also the future…
Mr. Merisotis: Oh yes, too bad it’s a state route because then we could close off the streets and put cobblestone all over. There again I’m dreaming quite a bit, but I mean, there’s a place in Alberta, Canada that has a bunch of roads that they put arch glass over all year round, so it’s kinda like a downtown mall. But that’s pretty out of the question, I’m sure.
Mr. Manbeck: So there are a lot of restaurants here now, and you just see more coming in?
Mr. Merisotis: Downtown Carlisle’s kind of become like a restaurant hub. I’d like to see specialty shops, magic shops, and upscale hair dressing and then there’s the price competitive stuff. There’s the toy store on North Hanover that’s pretty neat, it’s got all kind of rare toys. I’d like to see stuff like that, hard to find stuff, within the immediate downtown walking area. The only problem is you have that weather five months out of the year that’s going to cut down on the walking crowd. I’d like to see more downtown events.
Mr. Manbeck: Like the thing they’ve done on Pomfret Street?
Mr. Merisotis: The street fairs, stuff like that. I think that’s good for the downtown. It’s not necessarily good for us because everything’s going on outside, and they have food and everything, but for the community as a whole, I think it’s really good. I’m more of a less government interference kind of guy. It stings me that the local government likes to tack on extra taxes to the hotel chains. Because not only are you paying that 6 percent sales tax, but you’re paying extra, in some communities it’s outrageous, like Detroit, Chicago, and Orlando. But I understand, I’m not an anti-tax person, but I am to a certain extent. I think there should be reasonable things, not target one specific group, ya know, the next thing maybe we’ll have a pizza tax, a clothing tax, specialty clothing, whatever. We have to watch out for things like that because it makes us less competitive to our neighbors. If someone can go one town over and not pay tax on a certain item, they’re probably going to do it.
Mr. Manbeck: So, do you think there’s any effort to kind of bridge the gap between the Dickinson community and the Carlisle community?
Mr. Merisotis: Big time.
Mr. Manbeck: Especially with new stores, shops, and restaurants, you think that’s part of their plan?
Mr. Merisotis: I mean like I said, I’m a huge fan of Dickinson, so I mean they put the housing downtown here and they’re working on some other projects. They initiated downtown group meetings on the development of high street here. The President Durden, he let me go up in the Bell Tower, which has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so that was pretty cool. Have you been up in that?
Mr. Manbeck: No, I haven’t. It’s worth it?
Mr. Mesitoris: Yeah, they have skeletons, up in that space there in that auditorium in Denny Hall, you go in this little closet and there’s skeletons in there. And you go up this wooden ladder way, way up and it’s just awesome, and the mechanism itself. The antique mechanism that is running, that is just phenomenal.
Mr. Manbeck: That sounds pretty cool. Are you on any committees with the Downtown Carlisle Association or any others?
Mr. Merisotis: Not right now, no. Well, Downtown Carlisle Association put a Domino’s right in front of my store the one year that they did the basketball thing, and so I got a chip on my shoulder about that. And then I think the next year they sent in some application stuff. I’m like, these guys don’t even have the courtesy to keep ‘em out of the front of my store here, so I was kinda iffy, but I’ve been looking into it. You know, if I get in there and get some input, maybe things like that wouldn’t happen to other businesses, too.
Mr. Manbeck: You really seem to have a great understanding of the bigger picture. You would be a valuable asset to some of these projects.
Mr. Merisotis: Thank you, thank you.
Mr. Manbeck: What do you see as the future for George’s?
Mr. Merisotis: Sit down [dining experience], waitresses and waiters, it’s what my goal is, but the money is phenomenal, as far as the cost to break into our building next door [expand the restaurant’s size].
Mr. Manbeck: That’s a goal for you?
Mr. Merisotis: That’s my goal, and to close the patio in glass, insulated glass. I mean, I’d be dangerous if I had more money man. It’d be crazy in here. I’d have elevators going up to apartments and everything. So I mean, lotta dreams that keep me going, and I think it’s important to have those, but some of them are a bit unrealistic, some of them I think I can attain, slowly, step by step, but most people come up with a dream and they just have that dream. You’re never going to get there if you don’t have the steps to get there, the small steps. So this week, this is what I’m doing: I’m putting in this electrical outlet. Next week I’m putting a stainless steel panel on our roof, and I do that. I carry a three by five card with a list of things to do, which I highly encourage you to do, cause otherwise your not really going to get anything done. So, last night was that antique coin-op baker boy guy, he gave me three hours worth of tuning difficulty, but I think I’ve got it down. It’s neat; you see all these little cables and gears underneath, it’s pretty cool.
Mr. Manbeck: So I’m assuming this is a pretty old building here?
Mr. Merisotis: This building here is, early 1800’s, the building next door is a little bit older, I think it was late 1700’s, but companies out of Philadelphia came in here, and they used a squared off tree, if you could get up inside the ceiling, we did some work upstairs. We had to run wiring underneath the floor, and the wood beam that upholds this main section is this wide, by this tall [hand demonstration]. You don’t see anything like that anymore and there’s one in the basement just like it, so it’s enormous. I mean it’s good for storms, it’s bad for earthquakes.
Mr. Manbeck: Well, we don’t have to worry too much about earthquakes around here, do we?
Mr. Merisotis: You know, actually, there’s a fault thirty miles away in York. It’s an enormous fault. It hasn’t moved for a long, long time. It’s actually overdue for moving, so I carry $600,000 in insurance on this building, it’s sixty bucks a year. I mean, it’s a gamble, I could take that money and rebuild, which is about what it would cost, about $600,000, to rebuild.
Mr. Manbeck: Alright Pete, I know your busy in here right now, but do you have any other thoughts or comments on the future of George’s, the downtown area, stores that may be coming in, or any thoughts on the community, anything like that?
Mr. Merisotis: For people wanting to come into the downtown, I’d say take your dream and research it thoroughly and make it happen, that would be my advice to them. And, there’s room for everybody, I think, but tempering that with don’t be cocky. You can be absolutely sure you’re going to do something, and things can go bad. Plan for everything, hope for the best, plan for the worst.
Mr. Manbeck: Alright Pete, I’m going to let you get back to your business. I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to meet with me. You’ve been a great help, thanks so much.