Proud dads look to pass their family food businesses to the next generation

·9 min read

Jun. 17—For dads in the food service business, Father's Day is mostly just another work day. But it's also a time for fathers who run generational family restaurants to consider their family legacies, and remember vital life lessons they learned working for and with their own fathers. It's a day that gives them a chance to appreciate how their own children helped them with the business, and to dream of the day when they can hand it down to the kids, just as their parents and grandparents did before them.

We talked with three fathers running long-standing Maine food businesses to learn what Father's Day means to them.

Ed Anania Jr., co-owner of Anania's, Portland and South Portland

"Father's Day isn't always on Father's Day for us," said Ed Anania, Jr. He and his wife, Barbara, own and run three Anania's stores. The business has been in his family for nearly 60 years, beginning with the original location on Congress Street. "We'll make time for Father's Day later. It was always that way with my father, too."

Anania began working with his father at the store when he was 11 years old. "I started by stocking soda coolers. Fifty years later, I'm still stocking soda coolers," he quipped.

Anania said he had an excellent relationship with his dad, which made for smooth working relations. "He knew my strengths, and I knew his," he said. "He was my best friend, and later my best man at my wedding. We never stepped on each other's toes."

Eventually, Anania became a business partner with his dad, and he helped expand the business by opening two more locations, one on Washington Avenue and another in South Portland. Ed Sr., now deceased, passed the torch to Ed Jr. and Barbara Anania when he retired in 2007 at the age of 70.

Anania said his three kids all worked at the store when they were growing up. The rule was — just as it was when he was helping out as a young student — if they weren't busy with a sports practice, game or school activity, they had to work.

His two daughters now live in Virginia, and his son, Nicholas, is an attorney in Portland. Still, Anania holds out hope that the business will stay in the family for at least another generation.

"If I can hang on for a few more years," said the 61-year-old Anania, "I think my daughter might take over."

"I would love to be able to take over that legacy," daughter Beth Black said from her home in Virginia Beach. Black, 33, fondly recalled working with her father when she was a kid, helping stock refrigerators and later learning to run the cash register and work in the kitchen, slinging Anania's beloved deli sandwiches, pizzas and their award-winning whoopie pies.

"He's the best guy, and everybody who knows him will say the same thing," Black said. "He taught me by example how to be a hard worker."

Black's husband is on active duty in the Coast Guard, and she said they're hoping he can be transferred to the base in South Portland. But if that doesn't pan out, she expects they'll head north after he retires from the service in seven years.

"We want to come back to Portland to live," Black said. "And Anania's is such a special store. I don't ever want it not to be there."

Dan Beck, co-owner of Moody's Diner, Waldoboro

Now in its 95th year of business, Moody's Diner is another local institution, an old-school diner started by Percy and Bertha Moody, known for its homemade pies with decadent lard crusts made from Bertha's recipes.

Dan Beck, grandson of Percy and Bertha, is the third generation running the family operation. Like Anania, he'd love to hand the business down to his kids. Beck joked that his children grew up working at the diner "whether they wanted to or not. And I can't say there's a fourth generation banging down the door just yet."

But Beck said there's no rush. "I'm 55, and I still have a little bit of gas left in the tank."

Beck took over the family business in 2001 after his aunt, Moody's co-owner Nancy Genthner, put out an APB to the Moody family. "She was trying to find out who she could officially pass the baton to," Black said.

At the time, Beck was a pastor of a church in upstate New York. After some soul-searching, he decided he'd be the one to keep the diner going.

"My aunt cautioned me, this isn't a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday job. She wanted me to think long and hard. There wasn't any pressure, and I didn't feel obligated, but there was a certain pride I felt in the business, in what my grandparents had started," he said.

Beck, who hadn't worked at Moody's when he was growing up, had to learn on the job, leaning on his aunt's expert tutelage. By 2004, he was able to bring his own kids into the operation.

"Being able to have my three kids work with me was really special," he said. "Working side-by-side with them gave me an opportunity to teach them about work ethic."

Beck is steeped in Moody family lore, and said he's inspired by his grandfather Percy's tireless entrepreneurial spirit, harvesting Christmas trees and opening a campground in addition to the diner. "He was a man with nine mouths to feed, so he was a perpetual entrepreneur. Someone once asked him, Percy, do you have any ideas for how to make a million bucks? He said, no, but I have a million ideas for how to make a buck."

In the same spirit, Moody's Diner continues to broaden its revenue streams under Beck's watch. The diner, with its vintage neon sign, is at the core of the operation, along with Moody's Motel and Cabins, a lodging business started by Beck's grandparents. But earlier this year, Beck bought the gift shop his family opened in 1998, and will also be opening a soft-serve ice cream stand, A Twist of Moody's, on the property later this month. Beck doesn't worry about spreading himself too thin — he estimates that on any given day, there are 20 or so Moody family members and in-laws working at the properties.

Father's Day also gives Beck a chance to take a step back from the day-to-day operating concerns and consider the big picture, and what running Moody's really means to him. "I'm keenly aware that it's a family tradition, on Father's Day or any day," said Beck. "But Father's Day makes it like a chance for a self check: Am I honoring the legacy? I want to honor my grandparents, uncles and aunts who made this business what it is, and I want to do it well."

Jared Rosenfield, co-owner of Sandy's Purple Palace, York

Any discussion of Sandy's Purple Palace has to include the bra story. In 1987, Sandy Wilson — owner of what was then known as The York Restaurant, a little breakfast spot on the corner of Maine Street and Railroad Avenue opened in 1946 by her parents, Larry and Rose Ribak — decided the storefront needed a new coat of paint. Most of the buildings downtown were white or blue, but on a whim, Wilson tossed her purple bra to her husband, "Stretch" Taylor, and told him to match the color for new paint.

Taylor did as he was instructed, and the purple paint job spurred plenty of talk around town. Locals started calling the restaurant the Purple Palace, which Wilson loved, and the name stuck.

"Stretch and my grandmother were what made the place what it is today," said Jared Rosenfield, 36, who now owns the Purple Palace with his wife, Elma. The Rosenfields moved from California in May 2021 with their now 8-year-old son, Arie, to help run the restaurant and learn the business. They bought the Purple Palace from Wilson, 84, this spring.

"It means a lot to us to be able to keep it in the family," said Rosenfield, who had worked as a salesperson for a production company in California. "And it's fun being part of this community. There's such rich history here."

The Palace has a colorful history itself. Rosenfield said he regularly laughs with long-time customers about some of the standout memories, like when his great-grandmother Rose would totter around Main Street in high heels, catcalling customers at other restaurants to try to draw business.

"My grandmother was basically the same," Rosenfield said. "She'd be sitting out front, saying to people, 'You don't want to eat there, come in here.' We don't do that any more, though."

Rosenfield recalled darker times, too. "When he started the business, my great-grandfather (Larry Ribak) was the first Jewish business owner in town, and a lot of people tried to push him out. But he really fought for it."

Rosenfield grew up in Florida, but visited his grandparents in Maine every summer, and helped out in the Purple Palace as he grew older. "I really have fond memories of visiting York, and wanted my son to have the same experience," he said.

Arie is a high-functioning autistic child, and Rosenfield said he is absolutely thriving in the York school system. He also loves being at the Purple Palace and helping his parents.

"For better or worse, Arie is here a lot," Rosenfield said. "He's very involved when he's not in school. There's only so much he can do at his age, but he loves to help clean, and I've even tried to teach him a little cooking."

The new owners' plans for the Purple Palace include streamlining the menu, expanding specialty coffee offerings and extending their hours into the afternoon. The Rosenfields aim both to update and preserve the Palace. Most importantly, Rosenfield said he wants to keep the family restaurant going for another generation.

"I know he's just in second grade, but I hope one day to pass this on to him," Rosenfield said.