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Peanuts, Anyone? Peanuts, Anyone?
Peanuts, Anyone? Peanuts, Anyone?
The fare was fried, the drinks were plenty, peanuts covered the floor, and the customers were loyal. In 1924, a Reading, Pa. tradition began. "Jimmie Kramer's" Olde Central Cafe' located in The Green Terrace Hotel in Wernersville was born.

by Jennifer L. Post

Three generations later, standard fare includes entrees such as lemon parmesan flounder, pork chops and Maryland crab cakes. The name has changed to Jimmie Kramer's Peanut Bar and Restaurant. And, the location moved to 322 Penn Street. But it remains a Reading tradition, one visited by both residents and visitors of Berks County.

Michael Leifer '00, a graduate of Albright's Accelerated Degree Completion Program (DCP) and grandson of original owners Jimmie and Annie Kramer, says he's proud to be a part of the family tradition. Leifer is partner and vice president in charge of overall office management, register systems, physical plant and equipment, and bar management.

Today, the restaurant employs approximately 75 dedicated people and the structure has grown from an eight-table area in the rear to a three-building restaurant able to seat 225 people. But the atmosphere remains the same as when Leifer's grandparents were at the helm; that of an old time barroom.

Jimmie Kramer, "the fun, happy-go-lucky person everyone wanted to be around," and Annie, "the power behind the throne," were hard workers, Leifer says. In fact, determined to keep the business going, when the "drys" would raid during Prohibition and close the place down, Jimmie would quickly reopen at another location, Leifer says. Fortunately, with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the restaurant was legally opened at 322 Penn Street.

But when Jimmie passed away in 1951, Annie couldn't run the restaurant alone. The business was left in poor financial condition, says Leifer, so daughters Edith and Beatrice, along with their husbands, came in to lend a hand.

Under the leadership of Beatrice's husband Harold, Leifer's father and current president of the establishment, Jimmie Kramer's Peanut Bar and Restaurant grew and prospered. Harold vowed at the time that anyone who was owed money would be paid, Leifer says. He met that vow. Bringing retail experience and proper accounting principles into play, the road was now being paved for the third generation to join the business.

After attending classes at Albright for two years, Leifer joined the business in 1979. "My parents were opposed to me leaving school, but my Mom always thought at some time, when the time was right, I would go back," he says. "I was never really sure about it though."

Michael Leifer '00
Michael Leifer '00 stands behind
the bar at Jimmie Kramer's
Peanut Bar and Restaurant
where he began working at 18
years old. Today, he is partner
and vice president.

Working 60 to 70 hours a week doesn't allow much time for attending class, so Leifer says he didn't give going back to college much thought. His life was the restaurant.

"There's not a morning or afternoon that there's not something to do," he says. But when he had to find training for two employees, Leifer learned that going back just might be possible. "We had two people who worked at the Peanut Bar who needed additional training. So I called Albright for some information" and learned about DCP. (Accelerated Degree Completion, part of Albright's Graduate and Professional Division, is an intensive technology-based program designed for adult students with two years of college experience (50-64 credits) and three to five years of work experience.

Students can complete the last two years of a bachelors degree in 18 months while working fulltime.)

"I spoke to my wife about it and she was very supportive. Then I met with my parents and told them I wanted to go back to school. They were both thrilled! Although they were concerned about me doing well with a 60 to 70 hour work week, as was I."

But, says Leifer, "I felt it was something I needed to do. It was a hole that I hadn't completed. I needed to prove to myself that I could do it." So he enrolled as a business administration major in DCP.

"Jimmy Kramer, 'the fun, happy-go-lucky person everybody wanted to be around,' and Annie, 'the power behind the throne,' were hard workers."

Michael Leifer '00 partner and vice president
of Jimmie Kramer's Peanut Bar and Restaurant

"Essentially," he says, "I did nothing else. I worked and studied for 18 months." And, he adds, "There were many all nighters to make sure projects were as good as they could be. Good enough just wasn't cutting it anymore." But Leifer adds that the rewards have been worth the sacrifices.
"It has fine tuned the things I have learned from doing business," he says. Understanding financial statements better, scrutinizing marketing information rather than just accepting it, using quantitative methods to place orders, improved communication skills and prioritization of time are a few of the areas in which Leifer says he has gained skills.

Most importantly though, he says, earning his degree has given him confidence. "Knowing I was capable of doing that level of work and that I had gained the respect of the people in the class and the professor was a great feeling."

He adds, "To have actually walked at graduation with highest honors was definitely one of the superlative moments of my life."

Now, with a degree in business administration, Leifer says he "always likes to keep his options open." But the restaurant business has always been a part of his life, and he enjoys reliving the days of his grandparents through photographs and old stories. The interaction with people and the friends that have been made are what make the business great, he says. "We see some customers five days a week. Many come in and see us on a regular basis."

Leifer adds, "The people of Berks County have treated us extremely well. We're happy to be considered a landmark."

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