Looking Back: Margie Zook and her iconic Morgantown restaurant

This photo taken in Marge's Restaurant in about 1950 shows Margie Zook standing at the end of the counter while local students Roger Kurtz, Howard Muhlenberg, Elmer Glass, Frank Fries, Robert Lang, Evelyn Moyer and Dorothy Oatman enjoy her food. Photo provided

Pot roast, fried chicken, pork chops, ham patties, chicken croquettes, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, pepper cabbage, lima beans, corn, green beans, stewed tomatoes and seasonal fruit and vegetables were staples of the evening.

What was the source of all this? Well, it was Margie Zook, and it was all available in a restaurant right in downtown Morgantown, Pennsylvania.

Margie was noted for her pies with the flakey crust – apple crumb, pecan, shoo-fly, Boston cream, coconut custard, lemon chiffon, rhubarb and fresh fruit pies in season. The ice cream was Jane Logan lending itself to sundaes, milkshakes and banana splits. These are just a few examples to invigorate your appetite.

What is there to tell about this restaurant and its amazing cook who made these delicious, creative meals? Here is some background.

Margie Hoffecker was born in Philadelphia March 19, 1911. Her Hoffecker ancestor came to the U.S. as a hired Hessian soldier who was captured and then stayed in the new country. Her earliest Rowland ancestor came over with William Penn on the ship Welcome. Both families settled in Chester County.

The cooking and baking all started with her mother Bessie, who was a cook for several wealthy families. Margie stayed with relatives while Bessie was on duty as a cook. By the time Margie was 2, they moved to the Adam Moyer farm in Robeson Township, Berks County, where Bessie took care of Adam’s invalid wife. Bessie also cleaned and cooked. She was able to keep Margie with her at the Moyer’s.

When Mrs. Moyer died, Bessie moved to Reading and worked at Narrow Fabric. Margie was then cared for by Adam Moyer’s sister, Annie Segner. When Bessie was off, she would take the Wilmington and Northern Railroad to Joanna Station and walk to the Segner’s to spend quality time with little Margie.

Heister Eshelman was the teacher at the Joanna School near Joanna Furnace. While walking to school, he would stop by the Segner house and Margie would walk with him the rest of the way.

John Updike’s mother Linda Hoyer was a neighbor, schoolmate and a friend. On Sundays, they all attended the Robeson Lutheran Church in Plowville.

When Margie was old enough to attend junior high school, she moved back with her mother, where they had two rooms on the third floor with a family in a row house on Elm Street in Reading, sharing a bath on the second floor. Margie graduated with honors with the first class to graduate from the new Reading High School on 13th Street in 1928.

Bessie and Margie moved back to Philadelphia to care for Bessie’s brother’s children, since his wife had died.

Margie enrolled in Peirce Business School. She married Lester Zook, a school teacher and carpenter. Their son John was born when they lived in Reading. They moved to Morgantown in 1940, where their daughter Diane was born.

Margie was listed as stenographer in the 1940 census. She worked in a relative’s candy shop luncheonette in Philadelphia and helped her neighbor, who had a refreshments and rolling chair business on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. All these working experiences would later help her become very capable of operating a business.

When the restaurant opened, there was a 9:00 a.m. coffee group on weekdays. Jim Harner, Elton Mountz, Jack Muhlenberg, Charles Smith, Rusty Fosnacht, Jake Mast, tax collector Walt Stoltzfus, Earl Grub (after his delivery route) and Jim Detweiler (after his morning school bus run) looked forward to eating a tasty breakfast and sharing their stories.

The high school was only a few doors away. Many students would swarm into the restaurant after school.

Those who ate dinner there regularly included Supervising Principal of Twin Valley Schools Elbert Eberts, Walt and Kitty Stoltzfus and Helen Peck, after she closed the Morgantown Post Office, among many others. Many teachers stopped by for meals. Hairdresser Eleanor Grub would stop in to catch a snack if she was waiting for a client’s hair to dry.

Some of those who helped in the restaurant were Mazie Stalnecker Holland, Mary Hoffman from across the street, “Sis” Ranck, who lived out back, Rachael Stoltzfus and her sisters Esther and Ada, and many more. Any tips were put into a common pot and shared.

When the turnpike was being built, many of the workers would eat their meals at Margie’s. When the turnpike’s Morgantown exit was completed, it soon became the gateway for visiting the Amish country and their tourist trade increased. Grace Mine’s bosses would hold meetings at Margie’s. Bert Plank, after he retired from Lafayette College, held Civic Association meetings there. State Police would stop for meals. Some groups would have their dinners there, after which, if their business wasn’t completed, Marge would allow them to finish their meeting after the restaurant closed.

Marge was very strict about the waitresses being treated respectfully, and if any male customer was flirtatious or crude, she would quickly let them know.

There’s a story that a very sophisticated lady stopped one day and asked for a lettuce sandwich. Margie responded by telling her that she would not make her a lettuce sandwich, but would make her a real sandwich. The lady looked dumbfounded, but when the “real” sandwich was served, she said that it was very good.

Grilled T-bone steaks were made to order. In the 1950s, a 1 lb. T-bone steak with vegetables, salad, beverage and a roll cost $1.95. A breakfast favorite featured two eggs, any style, toast and coffee for 45¢. Other breakfast favorites included French toast, pancakes, ham, sausage and bacon.

They were up long before their 6:00 a.m. opening and closed at 8:00 p.m., and after that, the thorough cleanup. Even before opening, Bessie would treat the early morning delivery men with a cup of coffee. By the 1960s, the T-bone meal increased to $2.95. The “bottomless” cup of coffee started at 5¢ and the price never exceeded 10¢. Top price for a bowl of soup never exceeded 30¢. During the summers, ice tea was made fresh daily.

The restaurant was originally named Zook’s Luncheonette. Later it was changed to Marge’s Luncheonette and finally it was Marge’s Restaurant with an added sign stating “Marge’s Home Cooking.”

For relaxation, Marge would sit down at her Lester piano and play and sing.

As for the property, an 1876 map shows the owner as being Rachael Evans. It appears that it was the most easterly dwelling on Morgantown’s Center Street. More recently, in 1939, David M. Kurtz owned the place. There was an outside toilet as there was no inside bathroom at that time. David used the lumber from the barn in the back of the house to build this two and a half story east addition. With the barn lumber and stones he also built a small house at the bottom of the property now owned by Robert Shaw. Since that time, many additions were made to this little house.

Ivan Weaver rented the house from Kurtz and operated an appliance store here. Then Grumbine’s Appliance Store and Repair Shop operated in this newly built addition.

As for Margie’s Restaurant, Ernest Hostetler did most of the carpentry work. Jim Harner, with his flair for artistry, influenced some of the work. Margie bought much of her equipment from a restaurant which closed at Ludwig’s Corner. Over time, the heavy plate windows started to sink so Margie decided to fix the problem and while the repairs were underway, she increased the seating area.

Margie’s Restaurant closed in 1970. Margie still needed some income, so she worked for Joseph Rigg at his insurance office in Elverson and then at the Talbot Outlet located at the west end of Morgantown. Margie died in January of 1998, two months short of age 87.

The restaurant area was converted into a cozy apartment. The plate glass windows were replaced with regular windows by Darrell Bowman.

Glen Bowman is the current owner.

Margie’s Restaurant, with its homey, family-friendly atmosphere, shall always remain a cherished part of Morgantown history.