Joe Munch talks about opening Munch’s Cafe. Joe has been operating Munch’s for almost 20 years.
JOE MUNCH: Hi there. I’m Joe Munch. I’m the owner and operator of Munch’s Cafe here in Westminster, Maryland. We’re at 199 East Main Street, and I’m sitting here talking to my sister, Julie. And I have my lovely wife over there, Robin. She’s going to join us. And I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself.
Here at the cafe, I’ve been here 19 years, going on 20. And I feel sure everybody out there heard of timing. Well the timing was right when I bought this place. I bought the cafe from Mr. Ken Inskeep. And Ken was looking forward to retiring, and I was looking forward to buying a restaurant.
Well we came together, and he was the owner, operator of the place. And I bought the place on May the 2nd, 1988. You can ask me questions now.
INTERVIEWER: What do you like best about your job?
JOE MUNCH: Well being here at the cafe, I love my customers. We probably know 85% of the customers’ first names. And if we don’t know your name, we know what kind of sandwich you get. If you come here a couple times, you’re a friend. And most of my clientele, we’re right around the courthouse here, and most my clientele are courthouse people. We have lawyers and judges and secretaries, but we also have a lot of construction workers, we have tourists. But we have a nice variety of people coming in.
INTERVIEWER: How did you get started in the business?
JOE MUNCH: Well I can go way back to my childhood days. I’m originally from Reisterstown, 12 miles down the road. My dad had a restaurant down there. I’ve got to give my dad all the credit for what I know now. He had a restaurant down there, and I was a part of it. But I was only five or six years old, and I was a dishwasher. Pots and pans, silverware, dishes. I swept the floor, emptied the trash, but I loved every minute of it because I like to eat. And that’s a big part of owning a restaurant, is eating.
And as time went on, I got a little older, then I started working out front waiting on the customers. And it worked out really well for me. I just took an interest in it. And I was kind of like my dad’s right-hand man. He taught me everything I know. And the biggest part of what he taught me was how to make a good sandwich, a good price, treat customer right, keep the place clean. And this went on until we moved to Westminster.
We came up here in August of 1960. We had a place out on 140. It was called Munch’s Drive-In. We were the first one in Carroll County and Westminster to have $0.15 hamburgers. Cheeseburgers were $0.19, french fries were $0.12. I think we sold root beer for a dime.
Then as time went on, we had sub sandwiches, we had pizzas, we had ice cream, we had milkshakes, we had fried chicken. We were out there for 17 years. Built up a really good business. Again, the customers was the main attraction. We knew a lot of names. Soon as they’d call us on the phone, we knew who they were, and we could almost tell you what they wanted. And it worked out really well for us.
INTERVIEWER: I think I remember you telling me one time that back when you were in Reisterstown, your really first job was shoeshine boy.
JOE MUNCH: Well that really goes back far. I guess maybe I kind of forgot that. But had an old fellow named Mr. Krum. Mr. Krum made me a little shoeshine box. And had a couple little brushes and a couple little– the black shoe polish and brown shoe polish, couple of towels, couple little cloths to shine the shoes. I remember doing that.
But where I went was pretty unique. The bars down there would let me go in there during the day and shine shoes. And $0.25 a shine. I used to leave those bars with lot of quarters. And a lot of nice, nice men would give me tips and stuff like that. They wouldn’t let me in there at nighttime, but during the day I could go in there.
INTERVIEWER: Everybody has memories about their dad or their mom. Could you maybe tell me what was some of your famous– or favorite– memories of Pop.
JOE MUNCH: Oh, gosh, Julie. I would say I would have a whole bunch of them. I feel sure after this interview I’ll probably think of more. But the ones I really cherish the most, my dad was a big fisherman. He loved to trout fish. Well of course, I followed suit. I like to trout fish.
So come April the 15th, that was tax day, the first day of Baltimore Orioles baseball back in– now they’re going a lot earlier– and the first day of trout fishing. So my dad would take me out of school, we would go trout fishing. Get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and go up to Thurmont. We’d go trout fishing. We’d come home. We’d go to the Oriole baseball game, usually opening day.
And then at 12 o’clock at night, my dad was down at the post office giving his tax return, because that was the last day you could mail that. So that was a lot of childhood memories back then. It was a lot of fun. I’ve kind of gotten away from the fishing, but I still love my Orioles.
INTERVIEWER: Now when did you come up to Westminster?
JOE MUNCH: We moved up here– my dad had opened up the restaurant there on 140 March the 20th of 1960. And we didn’t move to Westminster until August of ’60. And I left Franklin High School, and I finished up at Westminster High School, 11th to 12th grade.
INTERVIEWER: Now what are some of the memories from Westminster High School?
JOE MUNCH: Oh boy, there was a lot of good ones. I played football. A lot of my longtime still best buddies are football players. We’re having my 45th reunion next month. Can’t wait for that, get to see some of the old fellas. And of course all the football players get together and we reunite, talk about old stories. And half of them are lies, but you forget if they’re true or not. But we have a good time.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any teachers or coaches that you thought a lot about?
JOE MUNCH: I would say my favorite– probably my favorite person was Coach Ruby. He kind of tucked me underneath my wing. I went out to his house to introduce myself. I wanted to play football, and I’d never played football before.
So they told me where he lived. So I went out to his house, knocked on the door, and here comes Coach Ruby to the door. Well he must have took a look at me and go mm, look at this wide body here. He might be a good football player. So he kind of tucked me underneath his wing, and I could see why everybody loved him, because he was quite an individual. He was just a nice gentleman. And had all the respect in the world for him. And even though he’s gone now, we still think a lot about him.
INTERVIEWER: After high school, as an adult, what were some of your hobbies?
JOE MUNCH: Well I got out of school in 1962. And of course, I worked for my dad. And he passed on in 1969, so I more or less took over the restaurant in 1969. And I ran the place up until 1976. And I just worked hard and made a lot of money, they said, but I don’t know what happened to it. But we really enjoyed it.
INTERVIEWER: Well yeah, but isn’t one of your favorite hobbies is cars?
JOE MUNCH: Well yeah, that’s probably where the money went. I used to do a lot of drag racing back in those days. A lot of good memories. Won a lot, lost a lot. Enjoyed that.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of cars did you have, and did you have a partner in it?
JOE MUNCH: Well I had a ’57 Ford. Brother Tom. I had a ’60 Corvette. Brother Tom. I had a ’57 Chevrolet. Brother Tom. He was my partner, and we had a lot of fun. We called it Munch Brothers. And we won a lot, but again, we lost a lot.
INTERVIEWER: How about some of– did you continue sports after you got out of high school?
JOE MUNCH: Well after I got older, I learned how to play slow pitch softball. That’s for the old guys. That started in probably the summer of 1969, just backyard softball. We would get together with a couple buddies behind their house up here on Colonial Avenue, and we started playing softball. And before we know it, we had like an eight-team league. So we all can step back and say hey, that beautiful complex they’ve got out there on 97, we were part of that. Even though we didn’t play there, we helped start the league.
We got the ball rolling. Had a lot of good helpers. We had a lot of good teams. We enjoy ourselves. And look at it now, it’s really big.
INTERVIEWER: And also the men’s volleyball league also, you played in that.
JOE MUNCH: Yeah, I loved to play volleyball. I guess being tall always helped. And I helped start the volleyball league, and that was a lot of fun. And that went on for quite a few years. But those days are over with now. I’m just too old, and just good memories.
INTERVIEWER: Well, I know I was too young to go, but one thing I notice that people talk about when they come into the restaurant, you used to do dances, have sponsored dances. And I think what were they called, the [INAUDIBLE] dances?
JOE MUNCH: Well that was probably back in my younger days. I was just starting to date my wife, Robin, and we had dances. Everybody loved to dance. And being a small community, we all got together, and it was two other buddies and me. We called them the [INAUDIBLE] dances. And we’re talking big time. We went to the armory, we went to fox, we went to the riding club. We always had a good time. And that went on for like seven, eight years. New Years Eve was always a good time to have dances. We always had good bands. Of course it was good old rock and roll. And everybody behaved himself, and just had a good time.
INTERVIEWER: Speaking of music, I think just from being with you every day, every time a song comes on– of course we listened to Dwight Dingle–
JOE MUNCH: Oh yeah, that’s our friend.
INTERVIEWER: ’50s and ’60s, you are quite the guy when it comes to knowing what the song, the title, and the name of the song, and who sings it. Why did you– how come you’re so good at that?
JOE MUNCH: Well that would probably date back when I was just a little guy. Now don’t laugh when I tell you this, but when I was just a little guy, my mom bought me a nice clock radio. So 12 o’clock at night, where I should be sleeping, I used to put the clock radio on my stomach. And I would sit there and go through the knob and pick up all these stations and listen to the rock and roll music. So I listened to music all night. Plus my dad, when he had a restaurant in Reisterstown, he had the jukebox there. So I would listen to music there.
But now, listening to the local radio station– and I’m going to say WTTR– I serenade my wife all the time coming down the road, because I can sing up a storm to her. Right, dear?
ROBIN MUNCH: Yes.
JOE MUNCH: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: I know that you come from a big family. There’s six of us. And also your own family that you have. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about it?
JOE MUNCH: OK. I have four sisters and one brother. I have a sister who lives in California. And my other three sisters all live around here. My brother lives around here. And we’re pretty tight family. And we have lots of nieces and nephews, we have lots of grand-nieces and nephews. And they’re spread all around the place. We have them in Texas, we have them in Florida– any more in Florida? No, they’re– yeah, we have them in Florida, yeah. Got a lot of cousins, I have an uncle in Florida. So we’re a pretty big family.
And then my wife and I, we’ve been married for 34 years– did I get that right, dear? 34 years. We have two grown daughters, and we have seven grandchildren. We just had a grandchild who graduated from McDaniel College. Of course us old-timers, we still say Western Maryland. But I’ve got it down pat now where I still say Western Maryland. And she just graduated and got married. And then we have a grandson who is over in Iraq, serving the– he’s in the service.
And then we have the rest of the grandchildren are all in school. We have twin girls. We have one young lady who is a good athlete. We have another grandson who just started college. He wants to be a pilot. And Jakers, there’s still hope for him. He’s 11th grade up at Southwest. So they’re all good kids.
And the two daughters, one lives in Hanover and one lives up in Taneytown. And the one in Taneytown is a photographer. And the one in Hanover, she’s just a stay-at-home mom taking care of her children.
INTERVIEWER: How did you meet your wife?
JOE MUNCH: Oh boy, that’s a good story. Now when I tell you this story, she’s going to tell me– she’s going to come back and say I was wrong. But I knew her mother and brother probably better than I knew her. And her mom and my wife used to come out to the restaurant. But I always talked to her mother, but she was just– my wife now was too young. So I didn’t really talk to her, because she was just a youngster. Her brother and I, we’d play sports against each other.
So one night, I went to a dance. And I met her at a bar. It was the VFW, so it wasn’t really a bar-bar. So that’s how we met. And 37 years later, we’re still together. Married 34, knew each other for 37.
INTERVIEWER: And how did you two decide– I guess it was a partnership when it came to deciding to take this place and start a business. And tell us about how that came about, and why you– what you think about the business and why you like it.
JOE MUNCH: Well being an owner and operator before, I had a taste of both sides of the fence. I worked for my father. I worked for myself. I worked for two different companies. And it was time to be an owner again. I enjoy the freedom of being the boss.
So when this opportunity came about, it was exactly what I was looking for. It was Monday through Friday, no weekends, no holidays, no nights. A three-person operation. I had my sister Julie working for me, and I have a gal named Kathy who works for me. And we have a real good breakfast, lunch business here. And like I say, my next anniversary will be 20 years. It’s been real good to us. And looking forward to retirement someday. That’s down the road.
INTERVIEWER: A lot of people don’t know this, but you’re a very generous man. You give back to the community. I wouldn’t say you do it in the big way, like volunteering and things like that. But I see how kind you are when it comes to doing things for people that come in and ask you to donate different things. And tell us a little bit about how you can help, and what you have done.
JOE MUNCH: Well being a small businessman, everybody is on a budget. Well, my budget’s probably tighter than the average business, because we’re small. And how I help out, we sell chances, we buy candy bars, we buy pizzas, we let them put their flyers out on the counter so other people can see it. I give a lot of coffee away. I give sodas away. That’s how I help the community.
INTERVIEWER: The proms–
JOE MUNCH: The gift certificates, the high school. I’ve given many boxes of potato chips and 24 pack– cases of water for their senior prom. This is how I help out. A lot of golf outings. I give the gift certificates, they get a new customer in here. This is how– it works better for me to do it that way.
SPEAKER 4: OK, whenever you’re ready.
JOE MUNCH: OK. Out of my 64 years, I’ve probably been in the restaurant a good 50 plus. I’ve always liked it. Again, the customers have meant so much to me. We get to know them. And it means so much, that personalized service.
Little story I’d like to tell is back– I used to take my daughters up to a truck stop up in Thurmont. And the waitresses made over my daughters so much that I had never forgotten that. So when I got into the business and our practice is now when a little kid comes in, we always try to talk to them, find out their names. Just relate with them. Because mom and dad really likes that, and I felt the same way.
So someday down the road, I hope to retire. And the restaurant business has really been rewarding for me. I don’t know what else I would have done in my life. Like I say, I give my dad most of the credit. He taught me so much. And some of the stuff I learned myself, some of it I learned from other people. And I’ve really enjoyed my life. And one of these days, I’m going to just be able to sit back and do a little traveling and just enjoy life.