Ask OMC: Why are there two clocks at every George Webb's?
Here at OnMilwaukee.com, we pride ourselves on being Milwaukee experts. Since it's literally our job to eat, sleep and breathe Brew City, naturally we get lots of questions from our readers.
And now we'll answer them directly.
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Send your question to AskOMC@staff.onmilwaukee.com. If you include your name and city, we'll consider it for our next installment. The most recent query has to do with a popular local restaurant chain.
Q: Why are there two clocks on the wall, right next to each other, at George Webb?
A: This simple query has confounded customers at counters and in booths for decades. (It's particularly confusing for those patrons already seeing double after bar closing time).
There are many theories as to how the two clock tradition began. The most common, and the one offered by a patient waitress during a recent visit, goes like this...
Years ago, local law prohibited business from being open 24 hours a day. George Webb (yes, there really was a George Webb), announced that his restaurants were open "23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, seven days a week and on Sundays!"
In order to avoid closing at all, the restaurants had two clocks installed with the time set one minute apart. Technically, the restaurant was closed one minute per day on one clock, but open on the other.
This is the common theory and the one that you'll get if you ask someone on the premises. (They've heard it before, trust us). Another story, told by Jim Webb, the son of the founder, said that the two clocks were actually an accident.
The original restaurant was founded in 1948 and located Downtown at the corner of Ogden and Van Buren streets. Many George Webb customers would wait for a streetcar right outside the eatery, and would have an interest in knowing what time it was, so as to not miss the trolley. George Webb had several clocks on the wall for that very reason. The clocks showed different times, representing places across the world.
As the story goes, the streetcar rattled so much when it rolled past the restaurant that most of the clocks eventually fell of the wall. You guessed it, two remained. George never replaced the fallen clocks, but decided to put two clocks in each new restaurant he opened.
"We have two clocks in my office, because we have a sister company in Germany," said a male patron Monday afternoon at the Farwell Avenue location. "People walk in, see the clocks and say 'What is this, George Webb's?'"
As long as we're talking about George Webb restaurants, we may as well mention another famous local tradition: the baseball prediction.
George Webb had a passion for baseball and followed the old Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association. Each year, he would predict the Brewers would win 17 consecutive games. Even though the minor league team couldn't live up to the lofty goal, Webb realized the value in this type of publicity.
When the National League Braves left Boston for Milwaukee in 1953, Webb was at it again. This time he put his prediction in print, taking out newspaper advertisements and creating billboards for his restaurants. He printed napkins that read: "George Webb's predicts the Braves will win 12 straight games."
It was pure genius in an age when marketing was better known as an act of grocery shopping rather than self-promoting.
When the American League Brewers were born out of bankruptcy court in 1970, Webb capitalized once more on its winning formula. Each year, Webb's cried wolf. Each year, patrons, like wolves, salivated at the notion of a free burger.
In the 1970s, the Brewers reached 10 straight wins on three separate occasions only to fall short of the promise.
Tempted again in 1987, the Brewers opened the season with nine straight victories when they began an historic and memorable homestand at County Stadium against the Texas Rangers.
A Friday night crowd of over 41,000 was treated to an easy 10-2 decision for victory number 10. Another 39,000-plus witnessed a 4-3 thriller in a Saturday matinee. That was 11. On a sun-soaked Easter Sunday, the long-anticipated giveaway was about to slip away when the Brewers trailed 4-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
But in dramatic fashion, the Brewers rallied behind a three-run, home run from Rob Deer and a two-run, blast off the bat of Dale Sveum, sending the club to a 6-4 win and 24,019 fans in attendance and thousands others tuned to their radio to their nearest George Webb's.
Three days after the record performance, Webb's distributed free hamburgers throughout its 42 restaurant-chain in Southeastern Wisconsin. In an eight hour period, Webb's served more than 168,194 free hamburgers to celebratory fans, many of whom stood in long lines on a rainy day in April.
In the past few years, the prediction has taken on a daily tone. Every time the Brewers score more than five runs in a game, Webb restaurants offer six hamburgers for $5. While that's not free, five-run outbursts happen a lot more frequently than 12-game winning streaks.
There are 40 George Webb restaurants in Wisconsin. The Web site is www.georgewebb.com.
Thomas said: I worked at a George Webb's on third shift (the drunk shift). When the after-bar crowd would ask "Why are there two clocks?", we'd respond "one for each eye".
Tabitha said: Waitresses used to tell you that there are TWO CLOCKS so you get your food TWICE AS FAST.
Cozen Beguile said: One clock is for people that are left handed. The other is for the right handed. LOL! PEACE!
firstname.lastname@example.org said: great memories this article brings back! i was at the easter game when the 12th game was won--and i got my free hamberger, too! thanks, george webb. miss your former location on wells st downtown. come on back! thank-you!
Linda said: I have a childhood memory that differs. I remember two side-by-side clocks, but one had the minute hand only. I think there were signs under both clocks. I can't remember perfectly what either said, but I think that the sign under the one-handed clock said something like, "For those who don't care what time it is."
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