Evan A. Sholl, 83, the founder of Sholl's Cafeterias, a Washington institution, died yesterday at the St. Francis Hospital in Miami Beach. The business that bore his name was started with the idea that plain food at low prices is good for you and was nourished with an unswerving devotion to customers, suppliers and employes and a pervasive notion of the goodness of the Lord.
Mr. Sholl, who lived in Bethesda and maintained a residence in Miami Beach, was hospitalized two weeks ago after a stroke. He never retired from the business he founded in 1928.
There are two Sholl's in Washington, the Colonial Cafeteria at 20th and K streets NW, formerly at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW, and the New Sholl's at Vermont Avenue and K Street NW. The customers include people who have been loyal patrons for years and tourists who have never before visited Washington. Some are the unfortunates among us and some are movers and shakers in government, law and business. H. L. Hunt used to stop by for the rhubarb pie. Richard Nixon ate at Sholl's before he became president.
What they all go for is the food, which is supplied fresh daily, cooked in small quantities to preserve quality and sold at prices that sometimes seem startling. Coffee is 25 cents a cup, including taxes, roast beef is $1.45, vegetables range between 45 and 65 cents, apple pie is 75 cents and the hamburger platter is $1.35. Auth Bros. Meat Co. and National Produce Co. are among the longtime suppliers who are mentioned on the menu.
Many of the staff have been there for years. Bonuses are legendary. At Christmas in 1970, every employe got six weeks in bonus pay and employes who had been there more than five years got $100 for each year above that. One lady found $3,800 in her pay envelope. They make their money by keeping the serving lines moving and the tables and floors clean. Floors are washed with hand cloths on the theory that mops just move the dirt around without picking it up. Waitresses wear handkerchiefs folded into corsages.
In addition to food, customers get advice. Cards on the tables and the walls bear legends such as, "Religion and patriotism help make this a fine place to work," "We pray together, we stay together," and "Hallowed be Your Name: May we have a clearer knowledge of You, so that we may understand the breadth of Your blessings . . . ."
Men of the cloth are not permitted to pay. Blessings are written out for Catholics, Protestants and Jews.
When windows at the Vermont Avenue and K Street location were broken earlier this year by persons rioting against a Ku Klux Klan parade, there were some who regarded this not just as a breaking of the laws of the land and the norms of civil protest, but as a breaking of the faith.
To the end of his life, Mr. Sholl presided over his business by making daily appearances. His gray eyes seemed to miss nothing.
"The man who can only eat for a dollar won't go hungry," he said in an interview with The Washington Post in 1975. "There are three people you've got to be a servant to. Your employes, the people you buy from, and your customers. If you do that, they'll make you a king."
And then he got around to religion. "Until you've received our sweet Jesus, what have you got?" he asked, pulling out a crucifix. "We Catholics have something you can't know about. If you've never had potatoes, you don't know what they're like. But when you've received our sweet Jesus, my, my, my."
Mr. Sholl said he got religion one morning more than 30 years ago when he was shaving.
"All of a sudden, holy mackerel, tears came into my eyes," he said. "I started smelling roses and I began yelling, 'I'm going to be a Catholic!"
In time, Mr. Sholl met four popes and became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre and a Knight of St. Sylvester. He was a member of the parish of the St. Jane de Chantal Catholic Church in Bethesda and was widely known for his many beneficences.
Mr. Sholl was born on a farm in Pennsylvania in a town so small that he couldn't remember the name of it. He was the last of 13 children. He went to school through the second grade and then had to quit. He used to estimate that he had 150 jobs, including milking cows and hauling coal, before he settled in Washington in the early 1920s.
In 1928, he opened his first cafeteria. By 1935, he had six cafeterias, a candy factory, an ice cream factory, a laundry and a farm in Gaithersburg. Then he sold it all except the two cafeterias that exist today.
"I had no time, hardly, for sleeping and eating," he explained. "With two [cafeterias] you can be an individualist. After that it's a machine."
The business remains in the family. The three day-to-day managers in recent years have been two nephews, George Fleishell and Edward Scholl and Joseph Fajfar, who is married to a niece.
Mr. Sholl's first wife, Gertrude, died in 1979.
Survivors include his second wife, Genevieve, of Bethesda, and a brother, Edward, of Emmitsburg, Md.