Say, how about a little jaunt downtown. There are things going on: movies, theatre, busy stores, busy hotels, busy pubs and plenty of restaurants. Restaurants and cafes and lunch counters and places where, if you're hungry, you can open the door and go in and eat. Being as how it's a warmish afternoon in February why don't you grab your rubbers and we'll waltz ourselves down to see Madame Jeanette.
Madame Jeanette is keeping company at the Zenith Café these days, no appointment necessary. She can tell us things, you see. Madame Jeanette is a reader - not of books, but of cards and palms and crystal and tea cups. She is picking up where the celebrated "Mysto" of the 1930s left off. Mysto read tea cups, cards and graphs, but not crystal.
Madame Jeanette is known as "The Mental Wizard" and claims to have read for many Hollywood celebrities: Kay Francis for instance, and Norma Shearer and Clark Gable. Readings based on "the practical psychology of human nature." Kay Francis? Well, how about "Four Jills in a Jeep?" Norma Shearer? "Mrs. Miniver" springs blithely to mind. And here's the odd thing, Norma Shearer was actually considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara, which ties right in with Clark Gable ... but look, that's not really important now.
What's important is finding Madame Jeanette and seeing what she has to say. If she's sharp she'll tell us that in 1947, five years from now, the whole Zenith Café will be renovated, the interior completely repainted: A brilliant coat of white on the embossed metal ceiling, pale green walls, a maroon counter, maroon table-tops and matching maroon booth drapes. Just imagine; 11 sets of matching maroon booth drapes. But even better will be the new "Selectomatic" record player with five (count 'em: five) counter top coin stations finished in simulated onyx and illuminated with twenty-four tune selections.
Perhaps Madame Jeanette will glance into the past and let us know exactly what type of business was here when this particular building was first built at the end of the 19th century. Was it Schofield's general store or was it C. M. Fink's bowling alley cum shooting gallery cum cigar stand cum card room? On the other hand, it may well have been Mrs. Henderson's fruit shop In fact, it probably was because Mr. G. T. Rogers who, as Madame Jeanette may point out, went on to become the town's first Mayor, opened his first store in a shop that was previously Mrs. Henderson's and this appears to be the spot.
Just think, this little place; first a fruit shop and then our first mayor's grocery and crockery store, and then well, then some other stuff she may divine and then, in Apr. 1925, the Zenith Café, crammed right in between these very large buildings on both sides. The Zenith Cafe was around even before that, of course. It opened in 1923 right next door in the Cranbrook Hotel block in what was previously the "Good Eats Café" but, because business was so good, moved here in what was then "The Two Georges Café."
Can you imagine, two cafes right next to each other, one wonders how they managed. It was Harry Basill that started the Zenith but Madame J. will have to look very closely in the tea cups to come up with that. It seems rather fitting that a man named after an herb would open a restaurant, don't you think? Not unlike one of our local contractors by the name of Waller. He built walls. Isn't life funny?
Madame Jeanette likely won't have any trouble coming up with the name Giovanni Fiorentino. "Joe" ran the Zenith Cafe for years and years and years. In fact, he hired her, probably more for the lady clientele than the railway workers but you never know. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, 24 hours a day. A new entrance and plate glass windows in 1928, not to mention the soda fountain that very same year and a steam table to keep things hot in the kitchen. Ice cream sodas and ice cream bricks, Klondike nuggets, banana short cake, birds nest pie a la mode. Madame Jeanette sure creates an appetite.
In 1931 Mr. Fiorentino purchased a 15-foot high neon sign from Modern Electric, the local agents for neon signs. It was, in fact, the seventh neon sign on Main Street. Nobody could miss it, especially all those soldier boys traveling on the CPR. There will probably be some of them in the café while we're having our reading so please try not to attract attention. You know how those soldier boys can be.
Madame Jeanette may just tell us that the elder Mr. Fiorentino left the business in 1947, when his son Tony and partner Joe Sherbo took over. Amerigo Piovesan joined up and Joe Sherbo left a few years later to start the Stop & Go Inn. The Zenith continued on well past the days of Madame Jeanette but undoubtedly she'll foresee that. The Zenith lasted right into the 1960s, a local institution of round-the-clock eatery.
And what of our little ol' original, illustrious, 114-year-old building today? A popular meeting place? A source of historic pride for Cranbrookians? A sweet heritage jewel on the tourists maps? Um, no, not exactly, more like a lonely, forgotten store-room/city billboard, something that is somehow all too predictably predictable.
Endnote: An advertisement for the appearance of "Madame Jeanette" at the Zenith Café appeared in February, 1942, and "Mysto" in August,1934. Of them little else is known.