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Captain America's in Exchange Street, Norwich, celebrating it's 40th birthday. Some of the staff, from left, Tess Persinger, general manager Matt Drew, and Lorraine Howes who has been there for the 40 years. Picture: Denise Bradley
Friday, July 13, 2012
Norwich’s own nostalgic slice of classic Americana is getting ready to mark its 40th birthday.
A job that started as a favour for a friend has lasted 40 years – and counting – for waitress Loraine Howes.
After a visit to see the Hard Rock Cafe in London, Mike Howell’s inspiration, she agreed to leave her job at Bonds.
“When I saw what they had in London, I thought ‘I’ll give it a go’,” said Loraine, 62.
“I served the first person who came through the door when we opened in 1972. I realised that I liked the public, and loved chatting to people and the banter with customers.
“There were only a few restaurants in those days, not like nowadays.
“But people still come here: think they come back for the food, for the atmosphere. They like the music, and they like seeing someone they know because they get a warm welcome.”
Customers snaked around the block when Captain America’s Hamburger Heaven opened in 1972 in Exchange Street, where it stands to this day under the same family’s ownership.
Tapping into the popularity of teen culture from across the pond, Captain A’s, as it came to be known, was the brainchild of 22-year-old entrepreneur Mike Howell, who was convinced the youth of Norwich wanted a restaurant like the ones they saw on television and films
He was proved emphatically right long before his death in 1975.
“When Captain America’s launched, it was such a fantastic hit they used to queue all the way up St Giles Street to get in,” said Wayne Persinger, a former US Air Force serviceman who married Mr Howell’s sister and is the current proprietor.
“He was cool and was made it appeal to younger people. No one had had American food like this before.
“After Captain America’s, Mike opened Skid Row, which was Norwich’s first cocktail bar, a unisex hair salon called Spangles and a boutique called Panache – they were all hits.”
Mr Howell was on his was to Great Yarmouth to sign a lease on a Prince of Wales Road site when he was killed in a road accident on the Acle Straight, aged 25.
The business remained within the family, and in 1981, Mr Persinger, a native of North Carolina, took over. It remains a family business today, with a third generation of the family – Mr Persinger’s granddaughters – now waiting tables at the restaurant.
On Tuesday, the captain turns 40, with many of its traditions and specialities – and even one waitress – unchanged since day one.
“Don’t fix it if it’s not broken, that’s the way we think,” said Mr Persinger, 70.
“People appreciate the nostalgia of the place, that’s what’s nice. People still feel at home if they have been away for a while.”
His daughter, Jules Riecansky, agreed, adding: “People feel like they’re stepping back in time. I have friends all over the UK, and they all have Captain A’s stories.”
The restaurant was a regular hangout for Norwich City footballers in the 1970s and was chosen by Lotus mechanics celebrating Emerson Fittipaldi’s Formula 1 world title just months after opening.
And despite the competition, Mr Persinger expects Captain A’s, complete with its Chevy bursting through the wall, to be around for some time yet.
He added: “I hope Captain America’s will still be here in another 40 years.”
Do you have happy memories of Captain America’s? Write to Evening News letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR11 1RE or email email@example.com