‘Retro daddy’ searches for vintage Dayton

In his quest to make “fun with, but never at” America’s kitschy pop culture past, California-based humorist and chef Charles Phoenix has confounded many classic diner waitresses.

Arline Kouns, a server for four years at Hasty Tasty Pancake House on 3509 Linden Ave. in Dayton, had the classic response when Phoenix asked, as he often does in diners, for some sort of pancake ‘face.’ It is an experiment he does to see the ‘artistry’ that is produced.

“I was kind of like oooh,” she said. “I was kind of like ‘a grown man asking for it,’ but it was OK. I told the kitchen and we took care of it.”

Kouns delivered the $3.50 pancake breakfast special with the pancakes shaped like a bunny head. Phoenix added sausage patties where the eyes would have been.

The self-proclaimed “retro daddy” took a photo with Kouns and the pancakes.

“That shot was one of hundreds snaps Tuesday and Wednesday around the Dayton area.

The author known for his live shows and videos will use some of the photos taken during his voyage in Charles Phoenix’s Retro Holiday Slide Show at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North.

The wry show will feature Kodachrome slides of American holiday life and style of the 1950s and 1960s, including pictures taken for Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

Phoenix said Hasty Tasty, which was founded in 1952, fit the bill.

"When you walk into a place, you feel the heart and soul of that place,” he said. “This is the sort of place where time is in a blender.”

Phoenix started his madcap tour of local landmarks Tuesday at K’s Hamburger Shop in Troy. Phoenix and Eric Brockman, a Dayton Art Institute spokesman and Phoenix’s guide, got there just as the place was closing.

"What is your favorite Dayton area 'landmark' - officials or unofficial?

The owner kept the lights on and told them all about her business. As a bonus, she fed them potato salad and red jello.

“It was the most beautiful Jello I have seen in 25 years,” Phoenix, a fan of colorful artificially flavored foods, said. “I worry that collectively, we as a society are turning our backs on jello.”

Phoenix said he was impressed with the generosity he found during his dozen or so stops here.

In New Carlisle he picked up a loaf of bread at Mel-O-Dee Restaurant & Catering and was given a free sample of the restaurant’s famed broasted chicken. In Fairborn he stopped in Foy’s and was taken down to the “dungeons.”

Mike Foy, the third generation in his family to operate the business, gave Brockman, Phoenix and the Dayton Daily News a tour of the business’s basement. A few wall spaces team with special treasures Foy has tucked away for safe keeping, including an animal print halloween costumes from the 1950s and Foy’s grandfather’s ledger from 1929.

“We are coming up on our 85th anniversary,” Foy said. “My grandfather started the business three weeks before the stock market crashed. I always say that if my grandfather could get through the Great Depression, I can get through anything.”

In his act, Phoenix finds humor in a time many criticize. He defends the era.

“People think it is tacky, but in actuality, there were really a lot of great designs,” Phoenix said.

He added that he tries to celebrate the fact that mom and pops stores still maintain their character.

“I am looking for original. I am looking for one-of-a-kind. These people are reverse pioneers,” he said. “The heart and soul of America is still alive and well, you just have to look for it.”

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