SLOAN COLUMN: Remembering Toufie’s Auto Lunch
We love it when see folks sharing content from our website, www.florencenewsjournal.com, and our Facebook page. Not only does it draw viewers to our sites, but it also serves as an affirmation that what we print and publish online is of interest and value to our readers.
I was recently made aware that a photo from our weekly “Do You Remember?” feature had been shared in a Facebook group called “Our Roots are in the Pee Dee” and that it had drawn a lot of attention. My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to check it out.
“Our Roots are in the ‘Pee Dee’” has more than 4,500 members. Nostalgic in nature, its members mostly make comments on people and places from the past. There are lots of old photos posted and questions posed such as “Do you remember this or that,” or “Did you ever … .”
The photo published in The News Journal and then shared in the group was of Kirshy’s Auto Lunch, a favorite restaurant of Florentines during the 1960s. The picture captured the establishment’s owner, Toufie Kirshy, shown posting a large sign in the front window of the restaurant, which stated, “Closed permanently for construction of city-county complex.”
The photo was dated Dec. 31, 1969. It was first published in The News Journal in the early 1990s after being submitted by a reader. The caption goes on to state that Kirshy arrived in Florence while serving as a cook in the U.S. Army.
For those who don’t know, at the onset of World War II the War Department acquired 1,400 acres adjacent to the Florence airport and used the site as an Army Air Corps training base.
Allen Lewis, who lives in Tybee, Ga., originally shared the photo, stating in his post: “Loved this place. Toufie, the waitresses everything, even though you couldn’t understand much of what Toufie said. Always thought he’d get hit by a car crossing Irby St. going to check up on his liquor store. Great memories.”
Sure enough, the photo had jarred the memories of numerous people. In just a few hours it had generated 38 likes and 33 comments.
One man remembered delivering papers to the eatery.
“I delivered afternoon newspaper to him. He would always give me something to drink. Ate there many times.”
Many others shared their good memories of Toufie and his diner.
“My dad used to take us there.”
“Were my neighbor. Great family.”
“He was my uncle.”
“I had a charge account and paid him every two weeks.”
“Postal employees ate free”
“I ate many of his hot dogs.”
“Loved the ‘Hot open face roast beef’ special.”
And then I noticed the photo had drawn the attention of Toufie’s son, Darryl. The younger, Kirshy, who still lives in Florence, joined the conversation.
“That’s my father,” he proudly stated in his first post.
Kirshy informed Lewis the reason he had a hard time understanding his pop was because of his thick Brooklyn accent.
Lewis responded by posting, “My dad had Central Oil one block north. Every morning he’d walk the salesman down for coffee and we’d get a country ham and egg or bacon and egg sandwich and then usually came back for lunch. I can still see the characters eating in there and the good vibes.”
Linda Harris, who grew up in Florence and still lives here, shared that she used to work at the city-county complex for many years and she remembers seeing Toufie each morning.
“He’d be out in the doorway and on the sidewalk, greeting people as they walked by,” she posted. “I won't forget him.”
A phone conversation with Darryl Kirshy filled in a few blanks. After being discharged from the Army, his mom and dad left Florence and moved back to Brooklyn. They were there for a year or two, but his mother did not care for big city living. The Kirshy’s packed their bags and returned to Florence. Toufie opened up his diner in 1948 and remained open for two decades.
Toufie and his restaurant soon became a local favorite. It was not just the food, but also the welcoming atmosphere and the hospitality of Toufie and his staff that drew folks to the diner.
Darryl said his dad loved Florence. The city returned the love by naming the street at the entrance to the Florence Regional Airport in honor of Toufie Kirshy.
The Auto Lunch – gone, but mostly assuredly not forgotten.