After 30 years, he still loves the business
On a Friday morning, Jerry Massad sips from his cup of coffee at one of the tables in his Carson City restaurant, the Cracker Box.
A familiar face makes his way for the exit and Massad’s face lights up.
“See you later, Dick,” he tells the customer. “Thanks for coming in.”
Massad turns around and puts his elbows back on the table.
“If you don’t love this business, don’t get in it,” Massad, 59, said. “If you don’t like people don’t do it. That’s the biggest thing. You have to love the business.”
On Monday, the Cracker Box will celebrate its 30th anniversary – Massad said he’ll knock off 30 percent on menu items on Monday and Tuesday.
The restaurant business runs in Massad’s veins. A second-generation American, Massad’s grandparents, immigrants from Lebanon, were in the restaurant business. His parents were in the restaurant business, too.
Now after 30 years, Massad said his success comes from the locals. He recalls the 2004 Waterfall Fire when his diner became a meeting place for many families.
“That’s the point of the Cracker Box, it’s a place for the community,” Massad said. “I’m very proud to be a part of the fabric that makes Carson City.”
As a young man, Massad moved to the capital in 1979 after a couple of bartending gigs in Reno that didn’t work out. He came to Carson City to serve drinks at his cousin’s restaurant, Adele’s.
He would go out to breakfast every morning after bartending each night and he noticed something.
“Everybody was serving the same kind of food in the same way,” Massad said. “They wouldn’t say hello to you, they wouldn’t say, ‘can I get you a cup of coffee?’ They wouldn’t say anything. There’s got to be a better way of doing this.”
So he considered opening up his own place to focus on the locals. He eventually saw an ad in the newspaper for a building on William Street. His cousin encouraged him to buy the property and helped Massad draft a menu.
As for the name, the Cracker Box?
“It was on the building and I couldn’t afford to change it,” he said. So it stuck.
The original Cracker Box could seat 24 people. Today it seats 68.
Massad said he tried serving dinner, but ended the experiment after two years in the 1990s.
“It’s just not my thing,” Massad said.
Today he has 14 employees, most of them part time. Some of them have been with him for years, one for a decade. He’s not planning on selling it, but he said he wants to put one of his longtime employees in charge.
His restaurant uses locally grown ingredients, including beef from a local ranch. During the summer, the restaurant uses all farmer’s market produce.
“Even though we serve chicken fried steak and maybe it’s a cholesterol bomb, at least it’s made from naturally raised beef with whole milk in it, nothing artificial,” Massad said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Massad strolls through the diner and points out mounted photos of his parents on the opening days of their many restaurants in the Bay Area. He finally reaches a few articles written by the Nevada Appeal in the early 1980s.
One chronicles the couple of weeks Clint Eastwood filmed “Honkytonk Man” in Carson City and ate breakfast each morning at the Cracker Box. Another article quotes a 31-year-old Massad.
“I started with $2,500 and borrowed every other nickel,” Massad told the Nevada Appeal in 1981. “And I had never cooked before. I used the sink or swim method. I sunk at first, but after a couple of weeks I got it together.”
Unlike the photo taken of him nearly 30 years ago, Massad’s beard is now gray. He said he’s not planning on opening any more restaurants – he also co-owns J’s Bistro in Dayton. But it’s a lifestyle he said he would never want to leave even if it is “more demanding than any wife I’ve ever had.”
“If I wasn’t in the restaurant business, I’d be in the restaurant,” he said.