BY JULIE JEFFREY MANWARREN
An act of kindness by a restaurant owner grew to feed a community during the coronavirus pandemic.
When social distancing orders closed doors to dine-in customers at Frank’s Place, 57 Jefferson St., Simpson, the 52-year-old restaurant immediately transitioned to takeout only.
With ingredients on hand in preparation for a busy week that suddenly wasn’t, restaurant owner Frank Cerminaro decided to donate meals to anyone in need so the food wouldn’t go to waste.
The demand was so overwhelming, Cerminaro had to make more food that first day.
At the height of the pandemic, Frank’s Place donated meals six days a week. Then Sysco and Tricolo Food Service offered food at a discount. Private donations from individuals and more than a dozen organizations in the community kept the meals going for the past 12 weeks. By the beginning of June, Frank’s place had donated about 35,000 meals.
“The families are so thankful”, Cerminaro said. “People have asked me if our customers took advantage of it. Ninety-nine percent didn’t. These are people who needed help and are so appreciative. I believe we were able to help a lot of people out. And it feels good.”
Regular customers were still taken care of as Frank’s Place continued to offer curbside pickup and delivery. Their take-out business infrastructure was already in place, so they were easily able to continue offering customers full menu options for pickup or delivery.
Cerminaro was grateful for loyal customers who kept coming back every week for takeout even though they couldn’t dine in. They posted specials on Facebook every day and the Cerminaro family retained as many of their staff as they could, even with diminished business. Bartenders started working in the kitchen and others did what was needed. Everyone chipped in.
That kind of teamwork has been a hallmark for the restaurant. Cerminaro’s parents, Frank and Joann Cerminaro, opened Frank’s Place in May 1968. They served family recipes, many that are still on the menu today. Cerminaro, called “Turk” by his friends, worked with his father to keep the bar and restaurant going in the late 80s. That work paid off; Frank’s Place expanded twice in the 90s.
“I couldn’t do this without my wife Kelly, my family, and our great employees,” Cerminaro said. “And it’s the loyalty of our customers over the years that keeps us going and makes Frank’s Place what it is today.
Customer Rich Thompson of Simpson has been coming to Frank’s Place for 25 years.
“They have good food, a family atmosphere and wonderful people who do a lot for the community,” he said.
On June 5, as Lackawanna county moved to yellow, Frank’s Place was ready. Staff set up a patio porch and tent with tables spaced out underneath. Calls for reservations came in as the news spread that Frank’s Place was opening. Cars lined up for take-out orders.
Although donated meals will eventually cease, many won’t soon forget the kindness and generosity of the family owned and run business.
“When our world was stricken with loss and shut down by a deadly pandemic, we commend Frank’s Place for stepping up to give back to their community,” one customer wrote in a letter. “If tragedy is meant to bring out the best in people, Frank’s Place, Turk, family and team have certainly filled the bill. We cannot applaud you enough. You all represent a beacon of hope during a very dark and uncertain time.”