Larry Thum worked part-time as a dishwasher and cook at the restaurant inside S. Klein department store, which closed its Roosevelt Mall location in 1975.
Thum wasn’t unemployed for long, landing a job at Torresdale Diner (later, the Dining Car) on July 25, 1975, at age 17. He’s been there ever since.
“This was it,” he said. “I haven’t done anything else. I’ve been blessed. I’ve never been out of work. I’ve never lost a day’s work.”
Thum, who was an Abraham Lincoln High School student at the time, worked his way up from dishwasher to line cook to kitchen manager to, in 1978, executive chef.
The family-owned Dining Car, 8826 Frankford Ave., is located next to the old Torresdale Diner. The Dining Car took its name in 1976 and moved to its present site in 1980.
Thum recently celebrated his 45th year on the job.
“It’s been a blessing,” he said. “I credit my Christian beliefs for giving me the perseverance to work in the restaurant business. It’s a great business to be in. It’s been a lot of fulfillment. You’ve got to love people to be in this business. It’s a great group of people working here and great owners. We have a great kitchen staff, a lot of longtime employees.”
Along the way, he took courses at the Restaurant School and founded the Northeast Churches Food Cupboard (now the nonprofit Feast of Justice). He takes part in Bible study at Mercy Gate Church, at Walker and Benner streets. His hobby is saltwater fishing.
A lifelong Tacony resident and 1976 Lincoln graduate, he and his wife Joanne have two adult children, Andrew and Mallory. Thum and his wife share cooking duties at home, but are never in the kitchen at the same time.
Thum is proud to work for a place that was recently voted the area’s top diner by Action News and welcomed the Food Network’s Guy Fieri for an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Among the people who’ve come in over the years are Bill Clinton, Joe and Jill Biden, Ed Rendell and Arlen Specter.
As executive chief, Thum makes menus and cooks and prepares food for Dining Car customers and those at Apple Walnut Cafe, a Morozin family-owned eatery in Broomall. He also makes sure the market and bakery are fully stocked.
“I’m pretty much a behind-the-scenes guy,” he said.
Thum sees his work as a labor of love.
Among his favorite dishes are soups, pot roast, meatloaf, chicken croquettes and chipped beef. He tells the kitchen staff that they are only as good as their last dish.
“Everything is fresh, wholesome and made to order,” he said. “I like to go from scratch. It’s been my thing from day one.”
Right now, the Dining Car is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tents are pitched in the parking lot 10 feet apart. Indoor dining could resume as soon as Sept. 1.
Owner Nancy Morozin considers her staff to be family members and is happy to have “Chef” on her team.
“The day he walked through the door as a young man was our lucky day,” she said. “He’s the best. He’s a great man. He’s one of the best people you’ll meet.”
Thum, 62, likes his job and plans to be around for a lot longer.
“I look forward to coming to work each day. Every day is a new day,” he said. “Thank God I’m healthy. I’m raring to go.” ••