A full cup of (Vindy) love

Youngstown restaurateur Charlie Staples is an engaging personality with his booming smile and a great promotional tagline.

“It’s all done with a full cup of love,” he says about his 41-year-old barbecue restaurant business at a vintage Belmont Avenue corner on the fringes of downtown.

He called me awhile back, kind of breathless and exasperated.

Six days before his phone call, The Vindicator featured his restaurant on our Wednesday Valley Food showcase page. That page is a must-read for local flavors from Valley-based restaurants.

Our fantastic food team of Society Editor Barb Shaffer and writers Mark Smesko, Mike Vallas, Jerry Tranovich and his Burger Guyz, Brian Fry and Rebecca Neiminen have served up local restaurants to readers for more than three years now.

All three years of this work is available on Vindy.com (See “Valley Food” about three-quarters of the way down our home page), and it always generates good social buzz on The Vindicator’s Facebook page.

We were able to finally feature Staples and his legendary corner of life a few weeks back.

He learned what we already knew about our coverage. But he put it in classic Charlie Staples style:

“Todd – I had to work the fryers for the first time in a long time – that’s how busy we were.”

We talked for a few minutes then, and decided to continue it with a visit to Vindy Talk Radio, which was last week.

We had a great one-hour sitdown. While we continued exploring the impact of our daily newspaper story, he also honored his mentor, Bill Robinson; he implored the need for more black-owned businesses; and explained where “full cup of love” came from. He also defended what I think is the most controversial part of his restaurant – a framed photo of local Democratic Party boss Dave Betras hanging next to photos of names such as Clinton, Obama and Biden. (Let Charlie tell you why.)

It’s a great session, and you can find video excerpts on Vindy.com and the full visit on our Facebook page.

(He was absolutely riveting in breaking down challenges in the black community and the keys to making change, including his obligation to making change. Paraphrasing here: There are black people who aren’t hirable; I hire them. You gotta try. They start in the back of my kitchen, and I try to get them to the front floor where there’s more money.)

But back to him and The Vindy and his breathlessness.

“I expected a bump in business. Ooooh, did we get so much more than that. We got ran over. It was Un-Be-Lievable,” he said, actually converting that last word into three words.

“Sales doubled. Dou---bled! And all that dead time you have between lunch and dinner? Didn’t have it. We were booming.”

He said sales were double for the first seven days after appearing in The Vindicator.

His next seven days were about 50 percent above normal. The third week after our coverage, his days were busier than normal but settling down from, well ...

“I did not have the staff for that kind of business. And that put me on the fryers,” Staples said in “full cup of love” exuberance.

“I strapped on that apron. And everyone [in the kitchen] knows: I get that grin on my face and I’m like [insert hand clap] ‘Alright – let’s rock n’ roll.’”

He exudes such enthusiasm, you almost want your own apron.

I think a future competition for us at The Vindy is to put Staples and Youngstown State President Jim Tressel in a live motivational speak-a-thon in front of 100 of the most-underachieving dads buried in recliners and Doritos. It’d be an empty room with orange dust trails out the door.

What Staples said is what we hear often – especially from the restaurants on that Wednesday page, but also from others.

Print lasts.

Lasting so long, I think also works against us.

When there is bad-news coverage reported equally by both us and television, I think we become more of the whipping-boy for “bad media.” When that story appears on TV, it comes and goes in 45 seconds. But in The Vindicator, it stares at you all day on the lunch counter or kitchen table. You have 24 hours to judge and assess any news in The Vindicator – and human nature is that bad news stings more.

When Leslie Barrett tells it on WFMJ, by the time you process it, and want to look at it more to assess, they’re onto a car commercial or a smiling Staples and a cup of love.

It’s puzzling. Our lasting nature that draws us more ire than TV when we report bad news does not resonate within the advertising community when they choose to promote themselves – even though they know that on TV, they are gone in 30 seconds; heck – even with smart guys like Charlie.

“I had no idea of the impact,” he said. “When people read something in the newspaper, they believe it. I don’t know why they don’t believe it when I tell them [in TV commercials]. It takes [a lot of TV ads] to believe it when I say it.

“When the newspaper says it one time, the whole city dumps into my restaurant.”

I was glad to hear it from Charlie.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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