BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Boston has Cheers where everyone knows your name. Berkeley Heights has Goodman’s Restaurant and Deli -- also a place where everyone knows your name and, if you are lucky, your birthday. That's exactly what happened to one customer last week.
Lunchtime was approaching, when two men came in and sat at one of the tables. The men, John and his father Ted Penn, ordered their lunch and talked to each other and staff members until their food came. Then, while they were eating, a couple stopped at their table, apologized for interrupting their lunch and presented Ted with a 100th Birthday balloon.
The Penns were surprised, to say the least, since the balloon came from complete strangers. The couple introduced themselves as Janet and Don Chisholm, who explained they had been eating at Goodman’s a couple of weeks earlier and overheard John and Ted talking about plans for Ted’s upcoming 100th birthday.
Janet said she made a mental note to come back to Goodman’s with a birthday balloon for Ted because it is “such a special event.”
Actually, Ted’s 100th birthday was Jan. 2, and there was an official party for him at Goodman’s.
John and Ted are regulars at Goodman's, with all that implies. They are on a first-name basis with everyone: Don Parkin, the owner; Jennifer Rosa, the de facto manager; the waitresses; cooks, and dishwasher -- and everyone there has something good to say about the Penns.
The Chisholms, who also dine at Goodman’s regularly, have lived in Berkeley Heights 46 years, the Penns 31 years, but they met for the first time last week.
TAPinto Berkeley Heights folks were just wrapping up a breakfast meeting at the restaurant when the Chisholms arrived with the balloon. They talked to Ted and John Penn, and the Chisholms, after they surprised the Penns and learned a bit about the two men.
Ted was raised in Nutley and went through the Nutley school system. He got married and continued to live in Essex County.
During World War II, Ted served in the United States Army Air Corps and was stationed in England at an air base. Asked if he flew on the B-17 bombers, he said, “No, I was a member of the ground crew” for them, adding a lot of the planes never made it back to base.
Ted worked with computers in the 1950s said John, who remembers his dad was working on systems “with 4K of memory.”
For 15 years Ted was a member of the Bloomfield Emergency Squad, which was founded in 1961. When he left, Ted was the only person to have delivered a baby while on duty, he said.
John said his dad retired when he was 65.
“He didn’t like retirement,” John said, so a friend from his years at the Bloomfield Emergency Squad suggested Ted talk to his brother, who “owned a Budget Rent a Car franchise at Newark Airport. He said his dad ‘thought he would work a month or two, but he ended up working there for 22 years.” He was 86 when he retired again.
By then the two men were living in Berkeley Heights, having moved to Berkeley Heights “because of crime,” said John.
Everyone at Goodman’s loves both men.
Jen called John, “a complete angel. He cared for the dishwasher, George,” who had a stroke while at work not quite two years ago. John rode in the ambulance with George and “visited him while he was in Overlook Hospital,” she said. John visited George at least once and often twice a week, and made sure he had what he needed -- from razors to magazines -- and, if he didn't, John would bring it to George.
Later, when George was transferred to a nursing home in Cranford, John continued to visit him there, until George died after having a second stroke, Jen said.
George used to come out and talk with John and Ted when they were in Goodman’s, Jen said. "He was a true friend -- you don't find them too often anymore.”.
Jen also described John as “a Walking Angel” because of the way he cares for his father. They have been coming to Goodman’s twice a week for the past five years, she said.
Asked what he has learned over the past 100 years, Ted said, "Just live each day as it comes. Why worry about something that does not happen? I never worry."