As I was thinking about people I knew and admired when I worked in Manhattan in the eighties, a matchbook from an upscale steakhouse surfaced.
Remember when all restaurants gave away matchbooks to stay with you to advertise their existence? Who knew they would become a relic of another era in such a short time?
Anyway, this book of matches had a simple beige background and the name, address and phone number of Ben Benson's Steakhouse, the eponymous restaurant of a man who, with his former partner Alan Stillman, had created many New York nightlife spots and restaurants, including the “days of the week” venues, Tuesday's, Wednesday's, Thursday's and, yes, T. G. I. Fridays, as well as the Grand Cafe and Smith & Wollensky. But this singular establishment, on West 52nd Street in Manhattan, begun in 1982, has never been cloned.
When Ben Benson's Steakhouse was only a few years old, his advertising was created by a small business-to-business agency that had been acquired by Bozell during the hectic days of ad agency merger mania.
I was assigned the task of creating a series of timely radio commercials that would feature Ben himself and a professional announcer, engaged in, hopefully, sparkling dialogue.
Writing the spots was no challenge – the agency wisely paid for me and my girlfriend at the time, Wendy, to experience the superb offerings at the “expense account restaurant.” But there were two production obstacles: Ben's schedule, and Ben's poor eyesight.
There was no way to get Ben and the announcer in the studio at the same time, and Ben had a difficult time seeing the words.
The late, great recording engineer Rich Peterson and I came up with a way to solve the problems. Rich would record me reading Ben's part on a separate track with the announcer, and also reading the announcer's part on a separate track with Ben (who would listen to me reading his lines and repeat them.)
Then Rich would put the two of them together, and even though I got to play both parts, my voice would end up on the proverbial cutting room floor, or in this case, wherever erased sound goes.
Ben Benson's Steakhouse is still thriving, and, according to its website, Ben is still meeting and greeting the business executives and theatre-goers who favor a no-nonsense, steak-centric experience.