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Chapter Five

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Sketch by Stan Abrams for Abrams' Tower's new kitchen in 2008

The above sketch is the last kitchen concept of my father’s life. He conceived it 16 years after retiring in 1989, the same year as Poland’s liberation.

For 50 years my father, Stan Abrams, was an innovator in the field of restaurant kitchen facilities design. Among his long list of achievements, working closely with architects Armét and Davis, he was recognized as one of the creators of southern California’s 1950’s space age coffee shop architecture, which is popularly known as “Googie“. He completed more than 1,000 restaurants and 125 major hotel projects, along with many designs for country clubs, corporate cafeterias, flight kitchens, conference centers and health care units around the world. Some of his most notable projects were for The Golden Nugget Hotel in Las Vegas, El Presidente Hotel in Mexico City, Royal Kirin of Japan, VIPS in Madrid, Spago in Beverly Hills, the original stadium club restaurant of LA Dodger Stadium, restaurants in Disneyland and Disneyland Paris and Filmland in Culver City, CA. His last design project before retiring was for a kitchen in downtown Los Angeles that feeds more than 500 homeless people daily.

The above sketch is the last kitchen concept of my father’s life. He conceived it 16 years after retiring in 1989, the same year as Poland’s liberation. For him, this was a simple concept for a tiny kitchen, yet with enormous problems to solve. Antiquated sanitation regulations were not exactly compatible with a building designed centuries ago for an entirely different purpose. Whereas in Western countries meat, fresh produce and eggs are prepared on separate cutting boards, Poland requires separate rooms for each. The amount of space available on the ground floor of the tower made this an impossibility.

Abrams' Tower Kitchen 2008

Since there was no space for a second room for cutting produce, the sanitation inspector came up with an ingenious solution. She referred me to a friend of hers, a lunch bar owner, who would cut the vegetables in her restaurant and deliver them to my kitchen. In turn, I signed a yearly contract. In reality, the only service she provided was to send me the monthly bills. She became the next in line, among others I was forced to rely on, who made threats to shut my business down, in her case if I did not pay on time.

Fully aware that my kitchen operated outside of the absurd sanitation regulations, my employees also had the ammunition to manipulate me with similar extortion and blackmail games whenever convenient. When one day I showed the inspector documentation of my father’s work, she was so intimidated that she told my new manager, Małgosia, that she never wanted to speak to me again. God forbid more sensible ways existed in the world to simplify food preparation procedures, which my father had successfully pioneered. From that point on, all had to be communicated through Małgosia, whom I hired because of her specialized education in restaurant kitchen sanitation, which had hardly been useful under such circumstances.


all for show

There was still another preposterous rule, that no dirty dishes could cross the same path with dishes of prepared food leaving the kitchen. First the inspector said that an elevator would be necessary, but this was not architecturally feasible. Hence, she conjured up another brilliant solution: dirty dishes had to be carried by hand, often down two flights of stairs, then placed onto a metal tray on wheels and rolled into the cleaning room.

Ultimately, the tray on wheels became a rarely used piece of industrial decoration. It also became one of the first attractions that customers saw upon entering the restaurant.

If ever there were a testing ground for the saying, where there’s a will there’s a way, this was the case from the first time I visited Poland, no matter how silly or bizarre the challenge. Creative problem solving was also a lesson passed down to me by my father, whose career was defined by coming up with concepts, not only for the sake of simplicity and efficiency, but to meet a wide variety of cultural imperatives and requirements. However, throughout his 50 years as a professional he had never dealt with anything quite like the ridiculously archaic Polish regulations governing the operation of a restaurant, let alone inside of a 13th century tower.

The background images are examples of Stan Abrams' work:
 1) A still operating Googie architecture diner-style "Norms" restaurant in West Hollywood, California, 
which opened in 1957 and is now designated as a historical landmark.
2) The 1989 Restaurants & Kitchens Magazine award winning "exhibition kitchen" of Brentwood Bar and Grill 
in Los Angeles, designed by Abrams & Tanaka Associates.

Click here for Chapter Six: The Ghosts in Flight