Chef retiring after 24 years in BB Rooners’ kitchen

SALEM – “I know one thing, we’ve sure had a lot of chefs come through here,” Frank Engle said last week.

He should know because at 66 he’s retiring after 24 years in the kitchen at B.B. Rooners at 256 E. State St.

“I’ve learned a little from each one,” Engle, chef emeritus, said.

When his brother Dan and wife Margaret opened the popular restaurant in 1989 it was pretty much steak and burgers in an atmosphere where the competition was fierce.

“It hasn’t let up,” Dan Engle said.

Frank Engle said, “We’ve gotten into specialty pastas, like pasta combos.”

Jerry O’Bryant, who took over as head chef in March, calls it “American bistro.”

Frank Engle said B.B. Rooners runs a lot of home-style cooking that is on the menu as specialty items.

It’s a menu that has grown from the burgers and steaks to Swiss steak, stuffed peppers and chicken breasts – what is known as “comfort foods.”

O’Bryant, 58, left the galley at the Salem Golf Club after seven years as head chef to move into what he calls a “fair-sized” kitchen at Rooners in early March and on June 29 when Frank officially retires, he will be it.

“It’s a good, comfortable kitchen,” O’Bryant said.

Engle said, “Since the fire (4 years ago) it’s all new … it was totally destroyed.”

O’Bryant said Dan Engle recruited him and the tip-off came from George Toy, who is a Green Township trustee.

“Dan called me up … we had probably two conversations … I was hesitant about leaving but when I saw Frank’s kitchen…”

O’Bryant says the hours are better too but noted they “pretty lengthy” wherever you go.

“This is no 40 hour job,” he said. “In the heat of the season you’ll work 40 hours in three days.”

Engle, a U.S. Navy veteran, said, “Like anyone else who knows this business, you work when everyone else is off.”

You can’t do it otherwise, if you care about what you do, O’Bryant said, adding that he and Frank got along “since day one … I felt comfortable right away.”

Engle said the restaurant business in Salem “is a little bit more competitive, we’ve held our own, maintained food quality. We’ve always had fair prices for people.”

O’Bryant said, “For scratch cooking and wholesome foods … these are the best prices I’ve ever seen.”

Engle said, “The thing of it is you’ve got to be hands on, people to hire, manage … you have to be here to manage the place, that the food is right and that’s why Rooners is successful.

“Dan and Margie are here … she’s the breath and Dan’s got to be the tough guy.”

Since starting in March, O’Bryant said, “I haven’t been this excited about being a chef in the last 25 years.

“I come in early and doing 100 people (dinners) here … I’m excited about working … I love working here, there’s not a drug or drink that gets me a high as when we’re clicking back there from steaks to steak nachos and the next thing you known that’s 30 or 40 meals.

“It’s like playing a winning game and you’re on the winning side.”

Engle said, “Probably the best thing that can happen is the customer says, “That was great.”

Two top-flight two chefs tearing through dinner orders can’t do it without supporting staff.

Dan Engle pointed to prep chef and daytime cook Becky Abel with 18 years at B.B. Rooners; Paul Derwig with nine years who works evenings with Jerry and Frank and Betty Van Fossan who serves up B.B. Rooners’ buffet everyday.

Dan Engle said, “Frank, without him, he’s been here the whole time since the bakery for 15 years and here 24 years, so we’ve been working together since Frank got out of the service.

“We’ve worked together for many, many years, we’re not only brothers … he’s definitely going to be missed.

Frank Engle said, “When you run in an industry like this, you have to have the people.” He noted that area waiters and waitresses want to work at B.B. Rooners because they know the tips are good.

Engle’s wife of 37 years, Darla, will continue working but he’s taking July and August “completely off.” More time with the family.

“I don’t know, after a year, people tell me I will be very, very bored,” he said.

O’Bryant points out that he’s been married 40 years.

“I’m telling ya, we’re cut from the same chef coat,” he said about his similarities to Engle.

Engle said, “It has been a good run, we’ve made a good living here …”

Friday and Saturday are the busiest and the Super Cruise weekend, Engle said, “is just the ultimate … the whole thing is good for the entire community, not just us.

“(But) it is like us here, we just do what we do. If it’s not broke don’t fix it. We try to please customers with good food and cold drinks.”

Dan Engle said O’Bryant is a great addition, a fortunate find.

“I got really lucky,” Engle said, “Jerry is a seasoned chef, he really works … I actually have to tell him to go home.

“He’s like Frank … you can’t just run a business with one or two good employees you have to have them all.”

Larry Shields can be reached at