Leopold Hartford

It was a cold, rainy night in January of 1984, and Leopold Hartford was standing on line at the local fast food restaurant in Corry, Pennsylvania waiting for a hamburger and fries. Every time the door opened, a gust of chilly air blew past his feet and he shivered as the temperature of his bones fell a little more. The time it took for him to be served seemed like an eternity, but the clerk finally appeared with the desired sustenance. Hartford took it back to a table and slowly began to eat it, but as he did so, with the cold air languishing by his feet, he sensed that something was amiss. "Why am I here?" he mused to himself. After he went home, he came down with a stomach virus that sidelined him for several days. This was the turning point for Hartford; as a friend was visiting and preparing some hot chicken soup, his friend asked, "Why do you do this to yourself? You're a bright person-- why don't you learn to cook?"

Hartford resolved to act on this advice as soon as he recovered from the substandard meal. He started asking around Corry to learn who would be qualified to mentor him. Everyone agreed: if he wanted to learn to cook, he would need to make the trek to Torpedo and see the best cook anyone around the area knew: Hans Snah. Snah lived on a hill just outside town, and as Hartford climbed the steps to Snah's house, he wondered just what sort of person he would be meeting. Hartford smelled delicious food being cooked inside, and he became intrigued even before Snah opened the door. The first meeting did not go well for Hartford, though. Snah took one look at Hartford and said, "Look, you'll never make it as a cook with that outfit. Come back when you have some decent clothes to use to cook." "That outfit" was a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers.

Dejected but with his interest still piqued, Hartford went back to Corry and started asking around about who might help him upgrade his wardrobe. Everyone agreed: if he wanted to learn to dress, he would need to make the trek to Oil City and see the man with the best taste anywhere in the area: Robert Trebor. Trebor had a haberdashery shop on a hill just outside town, and as Hartford climbed the hill towards the shop, he wondered what sort of person he would be meeting. Hartford saw good-looking mannequins wearing classy clothes, and he became intrigued even before he opened the door to meet Trebor. An elderly, bespectacled man with a Southern drawl, Trebor sized up Hartford and told him, "Son, you need some good dress slacks, a nice white shirt, and black oxfords. I can get you straightened out for only $100."

Without $100, Hartford returned to Corry and started asking around to see who might lend him $100. Everyone agreed: the place to go to get a loan was Union City. The First National Bank of Union City was located on a hill at the center of town, just in the shadow of the local church steeple. As Hartford climbed the hill to the bank, he thought to himself, "I sure hope this is the last hill I have to climb." When he went inside, he was fortunate to find that the loan officer, Mark Kram, was sympathetic to the anti-grunge cause, and after hearing Hartford's story, the officer immediately wrote him a loan for $150, and also told him, "After you upgrade your wardrobe, learn to cook, and get some experience, come back here. I might be able to help you climb the ladder of success." Hartford wasn't in the mood for any more climbing but kept that thought in the back of his head and resolved to see Kram again when the time came.

With the $150 in hand, Hartford went back up the hill to see Trebor, was properly dressed, and then went up the hill to see Snah, who was now willing to assist. Hartford knew that he was in good hands as he surveyed the many books on cooking that rested on Snah's shelves. That night, the two cooked up a storm, starting with breakfast, followed by lunch, and then dinner. Hartford returned each Thursday for additional lessons, and after cooking 30 meals in 30 days of instruction, Snah was able to get Hartford a job in a local restaurant as assistant cook. Within only a few years, he had worked his way to head cook, and with a wall full of awards to his credit, he knew he was ready to head back to Union City to see Kram again.

Kram said, "Hartford, I've heard lots of good things about you. You've made me look mighty good. It's time you headed for the big time. Take a week off, take this card, and go see Fred Derf at the Anti-Grunge Channel. Tell him I sent you." Kram gave Hartford bus fare and sent him on his way. As Hartford walked up the hill towards the bus terminal, he wondered what the Anti-Grunge Channel even was as he had not heard of it, but he knew that if Kram thought this was the thing to do, it was a good idea.

After exiting the bus in Des Moines, Hartford climbed the steps to the main entrance and asked to see Derf, a producer at the Anti-Grunge Channel who had been alerted to Hartford's impending arrival and was waiting. Derf told Hartford, "I'm glad you're here. It's time we had our own cooking show. I'm a little disappointed that you don't have any radio experience, but if Mark Kram says you're good, you're worth a shot. Let's see what you can do." Hartford pulled a bottle of water from his briefcase and the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies, which he prepared on a portable baking sheet and placed in a portable oven. In only 14 minutes, Derf tasted the best chocolate chip cookies he had ever eaten. "Hartford, you have a show. Cook like this every show and we'll make sure you have an audience."

Since then, Hartford's show has appeared every weekday at various times and has never been lacking an audience. He now even has a popular daily radio program, Let's Make a Meal. "It's been an uphill battle," said Hartford, "but it has been well worthwhile, and the anti-grunge philosophy has grown on me over the years besides. I'm so glad I took my friend's advice-- and I've never had to eat fast food again!"

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