George Pandl was a lucky man. He had a loving wife, a successful restaurant and nine kids to help run it with no concern for any pesky child labor laws.
The youngest is Julia, an oops baby who came along well after her parents tired of photographing their plentiful offspring.
"The few baby pictures that exist were all taken on the same day, as if someone said, 'Let's get a few pictures, just in case she's kidnapped,'" Julia writes in the funny and irreverent style she employs liberally in her new book about growing up a Pandl and working alongside her father at the popular George Pandl's Restaurant on Lake Drive in Bayside.
If we tease because we love, then Julia adored her father, who died in 2007. She has pulled together her many family memories and written a sassy yet affectionate book titled "Memoir of the Sunday Brunch." It's available on Amazon.com, at Boswell Book Co. on Downer Ave. and at Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon.
"We've been telling these stories for years. I've been telling them out loud for years. Some of my siblings didn't know that he had taught me how to drive when I was 14," Julia told me when we talked last week at her Shorewood apartment.
Stick shift, no less. Once she got the hang of it, she began driving regularly, though her father sent a chill through her when he imagined the headline if they ever got caught: "Restaurateur arrested drinking Manhattan while 14-year-old drives car."
Julia Pandl, now 41, was 12 when she started working at the restaurant, joining her siblings on what she calls "my father's chain gang." She quickly learned that the chatty, laid-back dad she knew at home morphed into a demanding boss at work.
That was especially true at the busy Sunday brunch, a weekly crucible for George, his kids and other employees alike. Julia recalls the day her father caught her drinking a glass of ice water while on pancake duty. Clicking his serving tongs at her, he scolded: "Never, never eat or drink anything, ever, ever, in front of the customers!" Julia's lip quivered.
Then there was the day her sister, Peggy, cut her finger on the scary meat slicer. Her dad saw it and shook his head. "Sorry, but there's no one to cover your shift. You're going to have to stay and get it stitched up after lunch," he said.
For as careful as George was to make sure his customers received only the highest quality food, the stuff in the family's refrigerator at home was like a science experiment. George would bring home soon-to-expire food and milk from work in the back seat of his car, and his kids knew to approach with caution.
"I've seen my family eat things that looked like they had been scraped off the underbelly of a schooner," she wrote.
George didn't pay his kids to work at the restaurant, at least not directly. What he did was put money into a college fund for each one. He was a voracious reader and loved the theater. Like many dads, Julia writes, he dressed like a goober.
"People say to me you had such a great relationship with your dad. Had it not been for the opportunity to work with him, I don't know that it would have been the same," Julia said.
When Julia's mother, Terry, was near death in 2002, she told her daughters to "keep an eye on Daddy." Terry was the religious glue in the Catholic family, and she knew George might need some prodding to keep getting to church, which had a sedative effect on him. Julia made sure he did.
And, being single, she moved in with George near the end of his life. He was 82 and fighting cancer. George had long ago sold the restaurant to his son. It closed in 2009. (Jack Pandl's Whitefish Bay Inn, owned by a relative, remains open.)
Julia feels lucky to have had loving parents and the bond with her father that's so evident in the book, which he knew she would write someday. He enjoyed the ribbing he took from his kids over the many George-isms.
"He was a good friend. It's hard. It's still hard. You learn how to steel yourself against Father's Day, for example. There are those times when you just miss him terribly," she said.
When it was clear her father didn't have long to live, Julia told him, "I'm sure gonna miss you, Dad," she writes at the end of the book.
"I'll be here," he replied. "I'll be here."
Call Jim Stingl at (414) 224-2017 or email at email@example.com