Before The Cow, there was The Exton Dairy Grille

The Exton Dairy Grille ca. 1931from L to R: Gladys Polite, Millie “Dolly” Polite (Ilario’s sister), Elmer Polite (Ilario’s brother), Ilario “Larry” Polite

A few posts (and months) back I mentioned an upcoming visit with my grandmother, Gladys Polite. On that visit we spent several hours going over the photos, documents, menus and material she still had from her various collections over the years. I don’t know where she’s kept it all.

This photo is one that I don’t ever recall seeing before. It is The Guernsey Cow The Exton Dairy Grille, around 1931, before it was The Cow.

Before my grandfather, Ilario Polite, owned the business, it was known as Montcalm Farms. He worked there in 1927 busing tables, washing dishes, whatever was needed. At that time, around 1927, it was known as Montcalm Farms.

The following excerpt is from the “Statement of Significance” prepared by Estelle Cremers, Historical Land Research, when there was an effort to get The Guernsey Cow placed on the National Register of Historic Places:

…begun in 1927 by Fank B. Foster, president of the Congoleum Company in Philadelphia and a resident farmer in neighboring Charlestown Township, Chester County. Foster needed a retail outlet for milk from his several Guernsey dairy farms when summer quotas were instituted by Harbison Dairies, a bottling company in Philadelphia to whom many local farmers sold their product in bulk. To process his overflow. Mr. Foster set up a raw milk bottling operation in a small frame building on the farm he owned at Exton crossroads. Under his name of Montcalm Farms, it was essentially a retail outlet for his own bottled milk, but quickly branched into the sale of eggs and other farm products. Featured was made-on-the-spot ice cream, and cream caramels prepared by a German storekeeper nearby.

Later when my grandfather took on the business around 1931 it was known as the Exton Dairy Grille. Later, it became famous as The Guernsey Cow.

There’s plenty more history to be shared and we’ll get to that over time.

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Preparing for Change

1973 Letter Exton Square Opening

When I first started working at The Guernsey Cow, it was the last year the business was run by Horn & Hardart (my grandfather still owned the property but had leased the business to H&H in 1976. More about the history of the business to come in a later post.)

My grandfather continued to walk around the place like he owned it and ran it. In a sense, he owned the legacy of The Guernsey Cow and protected that legacy by ‘advising’ management and staff alike. As a busboy/dishwasher/counter jockey there were a few simple rules that my grandfather imparted on every visit or walk-through:

    Table

  1. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
  2. Do not stop moving. Barring anything else, there is always cleaning, restocking to be done..
  3. When wiping tables clean, wipe the sides as well as the tops. The sides face the customer as well as the top.

My mother returned from a recent visit to my grandmother with the three-page memo written in 1973 by my Uncle Joe “Pep” Puliti (Polite), then president of The Guernsey Cow. [Click the thumbnails at the end of this post to see the full page memo.] In it he lays out a challenge before all employees in the face of the impending Exton Square Mall opening.

At that point, the mall construction had already changed the face of Exton and West Whiteland by gobbling up what were once corn fields on the Zook property. The Zook House was raised up and moved to preserve it and make it part of the mall property (It was moved again in the mall’s expansion completed in 2000) .

Along with the increased traffic flow into Exton, the mall would also introduce the area to chain fast food restaurants. When it opened, the mall featured the area’s first McDonald’s. Shoppers would have no need to venture outside the confines of the mall walls in order to get a bite to eat.

It’s a treat to read the straight-forward direction given by my uncle about the actions each individual could take to make the business successful and the workday smoother. You can still see evidence of this level of care and consideration in some locally-owned eateries and other businesses and a lot less of it in the chain restaurants and bigger places.

Next time you are out to dinner, take a look around and see how many of the staff are standing around or chatting idly rather than seeing things to be done and doing them.

[Click the thumbnails below to see the full-size page of the letter.]

Guernsey Cow Letter 1973 p1
Guernsey Cow Letter 1973 p2
The Guernsey Cow Letter Page 3 1973