Larry Lujack, Denny's, Peach Pie, and Me

Larry Lujack, Denny's, Peach Pie, and Me
Larry Lujack, who died at age 73, set my career in media relations and marketing with Mother Butler Pies

When I was growing up, the only deejay I felt really understood what I went through to get up in the morning was Larry Lujack, when he was on WLS-AM 890, "The Big 89" and WCFL AM-1000, or "SuperCFL."

The Superjock, a phrase he patented, was cranky in the morning, just like me.  He sounded like he just wanted to go back to bed...just like me. Didn't want a lot of small talk....just like me.

Unlike me, he could form sentences in the morning. And what he said made me laugh. Loudly.  I lived for Lil, Snot-Nosed Tommy and "Animal Stories" and the "Cheap, Trashy Showbiz Report," the "Klunk Letter of the Day." And the rivalry with afternoon hosts Steve Dahl and Garry Meier.

The team I looked forward to every morning was Larry, Lil' Tommy and Catherine Johns, their news reporter. Then, there was Les Grobstein, their sports reporter.

I thought Les was obnoxious.

So it would figure that I would work with Les almost two decades later, on the Weekend Sports Report.


Frequently, Larry talked about his love of Denny's Restaurants on the air. I had met his then-producer, Mick Kahler, through some mutual friends, and he had confirmed that this was true, Larry did love Denny's. Coincidentally, at the time, I was working at Denny's of Oak Park when they decided to become a rival to Baker's Square, introducing a line of specialty pies called "Mother Butler Pies."

A group of servers/hostesses were specifically selected to sell these pies in-store. But we were also selected because management wanted us to brainstorm and come up with creative marketing ideas to sell Mother Butler pies. After my idea of a Baker's Square-Mother Butler Taste-Off Challenge in Downtown Oak Park was roundly rejected, I looked for another big marketing idea.

And then...every morning before work, I'd listen to Lujack, and noticed that sometimes, someone would deliver food to the station, and they'd talk about the restaurant on the air. Well...since Denny's was Lujack's favorite restaurant, why not serve him a pie on the air?

I called their then-Promotions Director, Barbara Anderson. Barbara asked Larry, who apparently said to Barbara, "Why not make it a Mother Butler Day?"

And so, Mother Butler Day was born. Every deejay working at WLS 890 got their own pie. And they were instructed to talk about the pies on the air.  Larry's was peach. John Landecker got key lime. Les Grobstein got cherry. I think Catherine Johns was French Silk, but I could be wrong.

Not only did I deliver the pies, I was also the spokesperson. Dressed in my Mother Butler uniform, Denny's sent me to the Stone Container Building at 360 N. Michigan Avenue to deliver the pies and be "Mother Butler" on the air. It was the morning shift, and at that point, Larry was the afternoon man. Instead, I talked to Don Wade, who was filling in for Fred Winston. Don seemed to really enjoy the pie, smacking his lips after taking a bite. I think he had the Wild Maine Blueberry. I had about 30 minutes of airtime. And every deejay kept his promise to talk about the pies on the air. I remember distinctly that afternoon, when Larry said, "Les can't come to the mike now. He's eating his pie. Nom-num, Les!"

Pies were a main topic of conversation from 5:30 am-10:00 pm. And the Denny's bosses went wild. "I spent less than $100 for that advertising," said John, my manager. "And it got talked about all day!"

It would have never happened without the charming and delightful, good old Uncle Lar.

Larry Lujack died December 18, 2013 at a New Mexico hospice after a year long struggle with esophageal cancer.

Rest in peace, Larry. You did so much good in this world.


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