Family celebrates 35 years with Big Boy restaurant
The Tecumseh Big Boy restaurant on the city’s West end will celebrate being in business 35 years on Wednesday, Oct. 31. On that date in 1977, partners Joe Mannino and Gene Tuckey had cleared a field and built the popular restaurant.
“Joe had operated Joe’s Market down where Gary’s Quick Lube is now before there were convenience stores in all the gas stations,” said Joe Tuckey, one of Gene’s sons, who also serves as Tecumseh Fire Chief.
“Dad was selling Archway cookies, and he and Joe struck up a friendship,” said Blair Tuckey. The men learned they had a lot in common, both working since they were 12 and 13 years old. Gene was later part-owner in Big Boy West Side in Ypsilanti, and was provided with an opportunity to open a Big Boy in Tecumseh. Soon, he and Mannino became partners.
The Tuckey children now operate the restaurant, though Blair and his wife, Kim Marie also operate Theresa’s Angels in Brooklyn, and Sarah Miller has stepped away from day-to-day operations due to health. The siblings all have fond memories of the restaurant’s start and long-term success.
“We were 14 or 15 at the time, and we’d worked in Ypsi busing tables,” said Joe. “At first we worked for Lifesavers.”
“Or Wrigley’s gum,” said Blair.
All three remember opening day in 1977.
“Tecumseh High School was closed due to a boiler problem or something,” said Sarah. “We spent the whole day here, well into the evening.”
The Big Boy’s first managers came to Tecumseh from Ypsilanti with Gene, with most being former waitresses trained to step up. One waitress, Phyllis Williams, has been with them since the beginning. Joe’s wife, Sherri, has managed the restaurant for 21 years now and is assisted by some of the businesses’ long-term employees.
The Tuckey children all worked in the restaurant during their high school years. After graduation, Joe went into the Navy where he said he worked in the kitchen and dining rooms aboard an aircraft carrier, so he was still learning the food service business. Blair majored in Hotel and Restaurant management, but said he got most of his practical experience at the Big Boy. Sarah worked at the restaurant for 33 years, doing everything from hostess to buffet preparation. “So I guess I’ve about done it all.” She also served as manager of both the Brooklyn restaurant the partners purchased in 1988, and the Tecumseh site.
Blair managed the Brooklyn restaurant over the 23 years the family owned it. They sold it a few years ago, a move that likely helped them survive as a business in Tecumseh.
“If we hadn’t done that, we might have lost both restaurants,” said Blair. “The economy in Michigan has been very tough for the past 10 years, and you have to manage your business very closely because every dollar is important. But the customer has always been number one for us, and this community has been very supportive from the beginning.”
Joe said prior to his father’s death, he was pleased with the fact that he’d been able to become debt free.
Sarah has fond memories of her dad working as the baking cook when the restaurant was busy.
“He was quality control on that, and he’d also get out and bus tables, taking coffee around to the customers,” she said. “He always felt real positively that you have to be out there, talking to people.”
The siblings also remember how Joe Mannino was in charge of the cash registers — prior to computers — and taught many a Tecumseh youth math concepts and how to make change the old-fashioned way.
“The money all had to face the same way in the register,” said Sarah. The trio said that’s something they all still do to this day.
“A lot of our success goes back to those two as managers because they were highly respected in the community,” said Blair. “We couldn’t have been luckier than to have had them to learn from.” Sherri said their children also have all worked in the restaurants at one time or another, as did Ann Tuckey, a Registered Nurse by occupation, and Jinnie Mannino.
“Our kids never got that excited about school being closed for a snow day,” she said. “because they had to come and work in the restaurant. People come here to eat, even during snowstorms.”
Because the Big Boy has been supported by the community, the family believes in giving back to that same community, and does so in a number of ways, from involvement in such groups as Communities in Schools of the Tecumseh Area (Sherri serves as chair now) and the Tecumseh Area Chamber of Commerce to a discount program for churches who receive a portion of the proceeds.
They’ve been remodeling and updating, and Sherri spearheads seasonal decorating in order to make the restaurant a cozy gathering place for the community. The siblings also visit other restaurants and brainstorm ideas on how to make their business better, especially in the area of customer service.
“We’re like beneficiaries of dad’s trust,” said Joe. “His and Joe’s. We’re just doing things in the community that they would have wanted us to do.”