When we began researching the history of Louie's Lunch, we were trying to establish, at least for ourselves, what Louie's Lunch represented to Cornell through the years. At the time, while working the counter, I could still remember people asking if we were Hot Truck, our competitor on West Campus, because, for some people, Louie's Lunch was a representation of the Hot Truck on North Campus. With our research, we were somehow confirming Louie's Lunch as an establishment of North Campus as an important part of Cornell. Then, things got really interesting. Our research lead us to photos
and articles of the food trucks as they changed both owners and looks through the ages, and even mention of President Day. The history of the "Louie's Lunch" truck made us realize "Louie's Lunch" is, indeed, a part of the Cornell history.
"Louie's Lunch" began with the real Louie, Louis Zounakos. Born in Sparta, Greece in 1885, he moved to America, escaping the Balkan wars in 1912-13, though he never really escaped World War I. After retuning from batting with the axis powers, he settled in Brooklyn, where he apparently sold his mother's gin during the era of prohibition (according to family tales). He made it to Ithaca and began the red and white truck tradition that was to last to this day. Of course, the date of the original establishment of the "Louie's Lunch" truck ranges from 1916 to the early 1920s. Louis Zounakos was rumored to have pushed around a cart to distribute food, and eventually bought an old ford truck to make his stops at the various fraternities and sororities throughout campus. Eventually, he became established in front of Risley Hall when, in 1947 or 1948, he bought a new truck, equipped with stainless steel counters, electrical facilities custom made in Cortland, NY and the red and white colors that have dominated the "Louie's Lunch" dynasty. After years of service to the Cornell community, Louis Zounakos retired in 1955, a year before his death in 1956.
"Louie's Dog Wagon" Late 1950's
He was remembered for his jolly demeanor and his generosity. Many a student would have gone hungry without his help and food.
The next owners of the "Louie's Lunch" truck kept the name and the tradition alive. While the details are a bit sketchy, we think that "Louie's Lunch" was sold to someone in the Bangs family, a local family in the funeral home business in Ithaca. Another family was reported to own it after that until Arthur Charles "Cookie" Machen came along in 1962, thus beginning the Machen dynasty that was to last until 1997. Thelma Machen, his wife purchased the truck, which was run down and in need of repair. After bringing the original Louie's truck up to date, the Machens began and ran a second truck, "Louie's Lunch", Jr., on West Campus on Stewart Ave. behind the University Halls, which their son, Edward Machen ran. In 1975, Edward Machen inherited the business from his father and Ed and Marty Machen ran the business for a number of years, keeping up the tradition of good food and daily service to hungry students. Due to economic reasons, Ed Machen had to let "Louie's Lunch" Jr. go in 1965. Ed Machen then ran "Louie's Lunch" on North Campus for over 30 years. Then, in 1997, Ron Beck bought the business and is now running the historic "Louie's Lunch" truck on North Campus, keeping the tradition alive.
While we only included a part of the story of "Louie's Lunch", we at least gave you a picture of "Louie's Lunch" place at Cornell. However, no matter the historical significance, "Louie's Lunch" is still a place to go for food from noon until three in the morning. Sitting at the counter, I can remember the broad smiles as food was passed out and people satisfied their hunger. "Louie's Lunch" provided many cups of coffee and milkshakes to students on their way to their late night studies, or any other, less academic student activities. "Louie's Lunch" has come a long way since Louis Zounakos and his food cart, and has changed many hands.
Nevertheless, the same rule still goes: at "Louie's Lunch", you can still get food and a smile and, possibly, a good joke, on the corner of Thurston and Wait. In an article in the Cornell Daily Sun, on Feb. 16, 1973, John Schroeder wrote, "'There was many a student who would've gone hungry for a day or two, if Louie hadn't been there,' said [John F.] Bangs. 'He was a legend you see.'"