Comuntzis restaurant in Morgantown was known as the place “where Dad took his girl.”
It was where West Virginia University student Arch A. Moore Jr. took his date and fellow student, Shelley Riley, upon his return from World War II. The former West Virginia governor and Riley were married for 60 years.
Their daughter, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., recounted, “Not only was Comuntzis where my parents had their first date, but it’s where I met my husband, Charlie, for the first time when we were just teenagers. He can even describe the dress I had on that day.”
They aren’t the only ones with stories from either the uptown location run by Gus Comuntzis starting around the mid-20th century or the downtown eatery run by his brother, Peter.
“I remember eating at the counter instead of the booths….and the restaurant’s nostalgic black and white color scheme. Good times!
Kay Marie Comuntzis-Getsinger, now in her 70s, remembers her dad, Gus, making Coca-Cola at his diner, which is now home to High Street Pasta.
“Dad just sold Coke products — no other sodas — and when I’d come by for lunch he would say ‘taste this to make sure the mix is right,’” she recalled. “He was a stickler about that, and I became his taster. To this day, the only soda I drink is Diet Coke.”
Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated recently restored the classic mural on the side of the location at 456 High Street, which Gus had operated. It’s one of the original 16,000 signs spread across the country during an advertising boom.
“Dad used to tell the story of Fuzzy Knight, WVU’s head cheerleader at the time (who went on to be a character actor in Hollywood westerns). He claimed he wrote the WVU fight song on the back of one of our restaurant napkins.”
Comuntzis was a prime spot for the sign because of its popularity and high traffic location. However, in time, the once-gleaming sign was obscured when Farmers and Merchants Bank was built in close proximity to the building. The sign was re-discovered last year when the bank building, now BB&T, was torn down to make room for a pharmacy.
“One of my first jobs was at Radio Station WAJR which was up on Spruce Street. It was a short walk to go there for lunch. The different announcers (Jack Fleming) would also go there for coffee and lunch. Their food was delicious especially their pies. I wonder if the big clock that stood outside the restaurant is still there? Love Morgantown, and the Mountaineers.”
Comuntzis-Getsinger, a history teacher at a middle school in North Carolina, recalls being in elementary school at the time the Morgantown sign was originally painted.
“I remember because around that time a Coca-Cola representative came by and offered Dad a chance to buy stock in the company for a little bit of nothing, but at the time, Dad didn’t have enough extra money to buy even one share.”
Those of us student-teaching at Morgantown Junior High in 1971 used to gather at Comuntzis after school to decompress. Great sticky buns, as I recall.”
Now, people who remember Comuntzis restaurant as well as those who just love Coca-Cola products and the artistry of the sign, are coming to see it, getting their pictures taken in front of it and reminiscing of days gone by – and memories yet to be made.
“That sign is an important part of Morgantown’s history ... of American history,” Comuntzis-Getsinger said. “It really does bring back a flood of memories.”
“My grandmother (mom-mom) went there almost every day for a grilled cheese sandwich
and a chocolate shake. She worked at Comuntzis Card Shop across the street. It
was originally the popcorn counter at the Met Theatre. One of the Comuntzis brothers
ran the counter. We would go to the restaurant every summer when we came back
to Morgantown on summer vacations.”
The very first Coca-Cola wall mural is believed to have been painted on the side of a drug store in Cartersville, Ga., in 1894. Back then, Coca-Cola was brand new and unknown, so these early advertisements were used to introduce the drink that would one day become the world’s best-selling beverage and the most recognized brands in the world.
Shortly after marketing genius Asa Candler bought the little-known beverage in 1891, he commissioned sign painters to fan out across the country to extol the virtues of the fledgling drink.
"Delicious and Refreshing," "Relieves Fatigue & Exhaustion," "The Pause That Refreshes," "Work Refreshed," "You Can Trust Its Quality," "Things Go Better with Coke," and "Take Some Home Today" were among the many Coca-Cola advertising tag lines.
By 1910, a quarter of The Coca-Cola Company’s advertising budget was dedicated to wall murals. Over the decades most of the once-gleaming signs faded and many became almost unrecognizable. Others were destroyed or painted over.
Coca-Cola recognized that these “ghost signs” are an important part of their history, but more importantly, they are a part of the history of each of the towns where they exist, so the company has spent the last several years restoring dozens of these type of wall murals, from small cities in West Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina to metropolitan areas like San Francisco and New York City.
To celebrate each sign repainting, a community ribbon-cutting event is held with the company’s restoration leaders. Morgantown’s unveiling was on Oct. 26, 2015.
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