When I started this podcast in late 2019, I never imagined in a million years that I'd be eulogizing my father a year later. If you get a chance, check out the Tribute to My Father from December 17th, 2020. Ken Carfagno, Sr was born in Northeast Philadelphia on May 11th, 1936. He was the youngest of 6. Ken Sr. married Gabriella Corbett on October 20th, 1956. They were 20 years old. Soon after, they had their first of three sons, Ken Carfagno, Jr. That's my dad. 18-year-old Ken Jr married 16-year-old Lynn Driban in August 1976 and Ken Carfagno III was born on March 1st, 1977. Ken Sr became a Pop-Pop at the age of 40. My parents didn't stay married long. I have shared this so many times in this podcast as it's so vital to understand me. My single mom raised me during the week as a kid, while my dad and mostly my Pop-Pop raised me on weekends. The most influential man in my life has always been my Pop-Pop. In latter years, I started calling him my father because he raised me into the man that I am. Thank you for listening to this opening and my genealogy story. I just wanted to give you context to this episode.
My Pop-Pop had a favorite breakfast diner. It's called the Jem Restaurant in East Norriton, PA. Tony Bello opened this restaurant in 1974 with the sole goal of serving & providing a place for the community to connect. Due to the 1950's theme, it attracted many patrons that are nostalgic from that era. My Pop-Pop definitely found this at the Jem. He LOVED the 50's. As I said, he fell in love with his bride, my Nana in 1951. He went steady with her while they finished school. He worked at her parent's bakery to save up money listening to his favorites of Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford. Pop loved the 50's and he would mosey into the Jem every Saturday morning for years. His routine was the same. He's sit at one of the counter stools with his newspaper and talk to the other old guys that were there. They all knew him. Tony knew him. He'd order the same thing. A decaf coffee and corn muffin. He was so proud of me. I heard stories over the years of how the old guys and Tony at the Jem all knew that Ken's grandson was a Penn State grad, an engineer. He owned a cleaning company. He was married to the best daughter ever. He gave the family the first girl (Christianna) in 3 generations. The only thing he didn't brag about me was how badly I'd beat him in ping-pong.
So many other men from the community would flock to Tony's place. It was like Cheers, where everybody knows your name. Tony provided the atmosphere and the community showed up. But that's not all Tony did. Tony cared. He got to know his patrons. He learned their names. He learned their stories. I mean, Tony knew all about me and I barely met him. He knew what each patron ordered as many would get the same every time. I even heard this story from a waitress there. Tony would spot a customer parking their car. As they were locking their door and walking to the Jem, Tony would get their order ready. They'd sit at the counter stool and say hello to the guys. Tony would say hi, ask about his family, and then the waitress would serve his breakfast without him ever ordering. They didn't even need to write checks as the patrons would finish their breakfast, leave a tip, and pay the cashier. They knew. Tony knew and he knew for so many people that came to the Jem. People felt welcome. They felt like they belonged. My Pop-Pop felt this way every Saturday. I am so thankful to Tony Bello for providing this for my Father for all of those years. Can you see why Tony's business has grown and why it continues to be a staple of the area for almost 50 years?! I am sharing this story because I wanted you to feel what I feel about the Jem. How can you treat your customers and employees like Tony treated his? How can you build a business that is so much more?
I took my daughter to the Jem in early July as our father-daughter breakfast. It was so great being there. I could sense a piece of my father's soul in that place. I got emotional looking at the counter stools with the old guys, knowing that he was sitting there just 2 years ago. Tony stopped over to say hi. He recognized me, but couldn't place my name because I was only there a few times and my last time was years ago. I introduced myself this way. "I'm Ken Carfagno's grandson." Tony was so happy to hear that. He went into stories about him. "He'd come every Saturday after he... " I'd finish his throught. "he dropped my Nana off at the hairdresser." Tony smiled. "Yes! He'd order his corn muffin and..." I finished. "his decaf coffee." I told Tony I was the Penn Stater. That launched him into a whole new line of stories about my Pop-Pop and what he told him about me. I was in tears and thanked Tony. Christianna and I were enjoying our breakfast maybe 20 minutes later when the waitress came out with a plate. "Tony sent this over to you. It's a corn muffin." I lost it. After I calmed down, my daughter and I split the cornmuffin and took a picture. It was delicious. Tony stopped back a little before we left and asked if we liked the corn muffin. I told him. "Tony, that wrecked me." He knew what I meant and told me about how hard it was to lose his mom not long ago. Thank you Tony! Thank you for caring!
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