Children of Cy and Bert Long share history of popular Westside restaurant and its 2 locations
When the older couple walked in this week, the employees at Cy's Restaurant, 1833 W. Uintah St., had no idea who they were serving Alaskan burgers to.
They might have guessed if they had heard some of the conversation. “It tastes different, but still good,” commented Paul (“Butch”) Long, the son of original Cy's owners (Cy and Roberta Long) and a past owner himself, between bites.
And Barbara West, his sister, recounted how a fun trip she'd made in late 1952 - in which she met Manitou Springs High School kids and “everyone was so friendly” - helped seal her parents' decision to buy a business and move here from Springfield, Mo., in the spring of 1953.
If the workers had heard Paul say “I'm amazed it's lasted this long,” they might have thought he was referring to his food, but in fact he was talking about the restaurant, which is certainly among the oldest non-chain burger places in the region.
In Springfield, Cy had run a gas station, but was ready to do something different. Barbara recalled that his ear problem (he'd worn hearing aids since childhood after a severe bout of flu in the 1920s) affected him working outside in the harsh Missouri winters, and the Pikes Peak region seemed to have milder weather.
The business that Roberta (known as “Bert”) and Cy bought was a Frosty Delight ice cream franchise. Its location was essentially the same building that exists today as a propane sales outlet at 2725 W. Colorado Ave.
But within a year, Cy and Bert were coming up with a new plan. It was the heyday of the burger-specializing restaurants, typically drive-ins with carhops and personalized cooking styles, and the idea of offering more than just ice cream appealed to the couple.
Also, his dad “didn't like being under franchises and restrictions,” Paul said.
His parents decided to name the new enterprise Cy's - although, as Paul and Barbara noted, their mom's name could easily have been included, considering that she spent as much time there as he did. And that, as they remembered, was nearly all the time (except for two or three weeks each winter, when business was slow, and they would shut it down to take a vacation). The Longs' house was even close by on Cucharras Street, allowing a short walk to work.
Another part of the plan was to stay in the Frosty Delight building on Colorado Avenue. It contained only about 500 square feet, but was strategically located, just west of the Clark's service station, which in those pre-Highway 24 days was a major gas stop (including 18 pumps) along the main road to Manitou and Ute Pass.
On the east side of Clark's was an A&W restaurant. “So we had a 50-50 chance of getting their business [the people who stopped for gas],” grinned Paul, who was just 7 when Cy's started but was helping out regularly by the time he was 12 or 13.
Cy's and Bert's business plan proved to be sage. According to Paul, the place was packed on a regular basis, especially weekends, with cars filling the lot around it. Cy's soon became part of the popular summertime “cruising” scene of that era - a loop that included the downtown and up the avenue to Manitou.
Nearly all business at Cy's was people in their cars. Other than a counter with a few bar stools and a table, there was no place inside to sit and eat, according to Paul's and Barbara's descriptions.
In those early years, Cy's diners were treated to a burger recipe that Cy had created (using meat fresh from the G&C plant on 21st Street), a barbecue sauce that Bert made, fresh potatoes and root beer that was mixed from a family recipe and served in frozen mugs.
Barbara got married shortly after she graduated from Manitou High in 1953 (her husband, the late Al West, went on to own a prominent boat business on North Nevada Avenue), but even after having kids she agreeably filled in at the family restaurant. “If they needed a carhop, I was johnny-on-the-spot,” she laughed.
Barbara and the other carhop girls learned to be watchful of the frozen mugs. They chipped easily and had to be counted to be sure the same number came back in that had gone out on the tray.
Cy developed the Alaskan burger in 1959, in honor of Alaska becoming the 49th state in the Union. Fittingly, it was a large burger (a double-decker) and the cost was 49 cents. The price stayed at that amount “for a long time,” Paul said.
In the area behind the counter, several employees (many of them high schoolers) worked side by side in a relatively small space. It could get hot. There was no air-conditioning, and in the afternoons the summer sun glaring through the window over the grill could overwhelm the one swamp cooler. Meanwhile, the heating units for the grill and the french-fry cooking oil were “turned up all the way,” he said, so the orders could be prepared as fast as possible.
Despite such occasionally sweltering, close-together, “assembly-line” working conditions, all the employees generally got along, Paul said. For some of the youthful workers, his parents could be “like surrogate parents,” helping them deal with their life problems, Barbara added.
Cy's continued at the 2725 W. Colorado Ave. location through the '60's. Paul left to join the Marines in 1965, then went to work for a short time in California as an aircraft mechanic (a skill he had learned in the Marines). He admitted that he had left Colorado Springs in part to get away from the family business. “It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do,” he said. “I had to do something else.”
In the meantime, Cy and Bert, both nearing 60 and wearying of the pace, decided it was time to retire. They closed the doors on the restaurant in the fall of '68. So for about two years, there was no Cy's Restaurant.
It was Paul, in a surprise to himself, who led the revival, after returning to the Springs in early 1970. “I came to a point where I realized I wanted to work on something besides aircraft,” he said. “I wanted to go home.”
At the same time, his parents had “gotten tired of being retired,” he said. So the three of them began looking for a new site to bring the restaurant back. There was a building about the right size at 19th and Uintah streets. It had housed a restaurant called Shelleys, which had not done well, partly because in those days Uintah did not go through (stopping east of 17th Street). But there were rumblings that the city would extend the road (which it did), and “we felt that Cy's had enough following that people would find us.” Paul said (which they did).
However, health issues began cropping up. Cy had an allergic reaction to penicillin and nearly died in 1971, prompting Paul to work up an offer to buy his parents out two years later. He recalled that as the incident that made him think, “I need to start taking this more seriously.”
In 1974, Cy passed on. Then four years later, Bert died of a stroke.
Through it all, Paul kept the restaurant going, aided by his second wife Georgia, whom he married in 1975. It was a changing era for small, privately owned restaurants like Cy's. Competition from fast-food chains was increasing, plus the “cruising” days were fading away, Paul explained. But the workload for hands- on proprietors had not diminished. By the late '70s, he admitted looking for ways to cut back his time commitment.
When he finally sold the business in 1979, Georgia remarked, “The only person sad was our daughter, because she couldn't work as a carhop.”
The business has passed through several owners since then, with the Micci family now running it.
After her husband's death, Barbara ran the boat business for 20 years before selling the property to the city's Urban Renewal Authority in 2006. Nowadays, she lives part of the year here and part in Arizona. Paul worked for years as a manufacturer's representative before retiring a few years ago in Springfield. But he still visits the Springs now and then.
Sitting inside eating their hamburgers at Cy's this week, brother and sister remarked on aspects of the 19th-and-Uintah restaurant - some that haven't changed and some that have: The old interior did not have booths, just tables (Paul had decided in his day that he couldn't afford them). The outside sign, with “Hamburgers” in the largest letters, remains just as Cy had designed it. The clock over the entrance is also a carryover, but the original neon sign below it is gone. And there's a photo above the counter of a long-ago couple in what appears to be a hamburger restaurant, but the people in it are not Cy and Bert. “No one knows who they are,” Paul noted. He's hopeful that someday the Miccis might replace it with a photo he's given them of his parents.
Paul and Barbara have no explanation for why the business has lasted so long. Maybe it's the lack of hamburger-cookery competition in the Uintah Street area; maybe it's the private-ownership style that's so typical of the Westside; maybe it's the quality of the food, carried on from the original days; maybe it's just that after 58 years Cy's has risen in stature to a kind of regional hamburger shrine.
In any case, Paul expressed delighted amazement that his parents' old restaurant - not to mention his old restaurant - is still in business. And took another bite of his burger.
Westside Pioneer article