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Pa. short-order cook wields a quick spatula

July 07, 1998

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

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Short order cookBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Tom Bushman probably logs a mile every morning walking within the confines of his grill at the Parlor House Restaurant in Waynesboro.

Bushman's lanky frame and long arms never stop moving from 4:45 a.m. until 11 a.m., when he stops serving breakfast for the day.

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"The doors open at 6, but people start coming in around quarter past five, so I serve them," he said.

His domain is the grill behind the counter in the old diner section of the Parlor House at 724 S. Potomac St.

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Every morning Bushman, 59, of Waynesboro, converts 25 dozen large white eggs into omelets, fries them up and over-easy, or scrambles them for dozens of customers.

He does his job in graceful, apparently effortless motion and his grill is a model of efficiency.

Toasters are on the left. To their right are two antique-looking cast-iron waffle-makers, their black wooden handles pointing up. The left side of the grill is piled high with steaming home fries in various stages of doneness.

Pancakes - plain and blueberry - and French toast are created next to the potatoes. Eggs and omelets are on the far right. The meats - bacon, country and regular ham, hot-dog-size sausage links and scrapple - are in back frying.

He toasts 15 loaves of bread and goes through two gallons of pancake batter each morning.

Bushman wields a large spatula in his right hand, constantly scraping, flipping and chopping.

Waitresses Camille, Connie and Anita squeeze back and forth in the narrow space between Bushman and the counter. He reads their orders as they spread them out on the wooden cutting board that runs the length of the grill.

"I've been in this business for 41 years, six years here," said Bushman, who was born in Emmitsburg, Md.

He feels good, he says, doesn't feel his age, and said there is nothing about his job that he hates. Sometimes at night he's a little tired, but he works that off by taking long walks with his wife, Marlene, he said.

"Tom is one of the best short-order cooks around," said Jeff Mace, owner of the restaurant since 1984. "He has to do a lot of things at once. Each order is custom-cooked. Tom gives his all every day. People like to watch him work."

About 50 people work in the restaurant, which includes three dining rooms and a banquet room, Mace said.

Waitress Camille Schooley, 43, of Waynesboro, has worked with Bushman for five years.

"I've been a waitress all my life and Tom's a 10-plus. He keeps his patience with us even when we mess up. He doesn't realize it, but he's best when he's under pressure," she said.

Most of the customers are regulars who call Bushman by his first name.

Raymond and Lorraine Higgins eat breakfast at the Parlor House most days.

"Even if I didn't like the food, I'd come in to watch him," Lorraine Higgins said. "I can cook, but I can't cook like him."

The couple usually orders the same thing - eggs, sausage, scrapple and home fries, she said.

Mel Colwell, 76, and Mildred Colwell, 77, live in Baltimore but frequently visit their daughter, who lives in Waynesboro. They said they come to the restaurant for breakfast every chance they get.

"We love their home fries and ham," Mildred Colwell said. "We don't know Tom personally, but we know he's very good and fast," she said.

"We'd like to take him home with us," Mel Colwell said.

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