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Celebrating 60 Years of Friendship and Service at NYP!

Kitchen co-workers Frankie Gray and Mitchell Springer share the secret to their long, happy careers.

When Franklin “Frankie” Gray from Swan Quarter, North Carolina, and Mitchell Springer, who was born in Panama City, met in Manhattan more than 60 years ago, neither man knew that he was at the start of a six-decade-long career at NewYork-Presbyterian, let alone about to forge a lifelong friendship.

“I met him in ’57, and he’s a nice guy,” says Frankie, now 81 years old, about his friend Mitchell. “And up to today, he’s still the same. He’ll do anything for you that he can. He is that kind of person.”

“We have good chemistry,” Mitchell says about Frankie. “We’ve gotten along good for years, so we never had a problem.”

Three-hundred years,” Frankie jokes. “We’re, like, part of each other’s family.”

This week, as NewYork-Presbyterian celebrates Healthcare Food Service Week, which was enacted by Congress in 1985 to honor workers who provide meals for hospital patients and staff, Health Matters spoke with these veterans of one of the most important rooms in any organization: the kitchen.

How long have you been at NewYork-Presbyterian?
FRANKIE: I’ve worked here 60 years, so it must be something about the place. I love it. It’s a good place to work.

MITCHELL: I’m 80 and I’ve worked for the institution for 62 years. I started May 3, 1957, serving ice cream in Bertha Pavilion, which doesn’t exist anymore. Since working here, I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking. I make the tuna fish salad, chicken salad, egg salad…

You must have some great stories!
MITCHELL: Back in the day, I met a lot of famous people at the hospital. Ed Sullivan. The Shah of Iran.

FRANKIE: My mother used to talk about this hospital, back in the ’40s. She used to come here, and she used to talk about how great it was. That’s why I knew about it. And I also had a cousin who worked here many years ago.

You’ve always been in the kitchen?
FRANKIE: Always. Nowadays, I mix salads. I’m still making salads but different kinds. Back in the day, we used to make sliced tomato salads, “Under the Sea” JELL-O salads. Now, the salads are different. Since room service started, they came up with a salad I never knew: Greek. It’s something I never did.

MITCHELL: Frankie used to make this salad, “Angel Delight.” That was one of the best salads they made back in the day. At that time, you had the “Waldorf,” which was apples, mayonnaise, and nuts on top and served on a bed of lettuce. The “Under the Sea” was a green salad and green JELL-O with two pear halves.

What is it about the kitchen that you like?
FRANKIE: It is easy to work here, and it is easy to get along with the employees and the supervisors. I never had any problem, so I think that is a big deal. After 60 years, you’ve had no problem with a supervisor or boss? I appreciate that. … I always come early, but I am supposed to start at six o’clock. Six to two are my regular hours, but I always leave the house early. I come in at, like, 4:30, 5 o’clock.

Mitchell Springer

How many meals have you guys served to patients?
MITCHELL: We’ve probably served over a million patient meals. I didn’t start making sandwiches, but now I do and it’s way up in the thousands of sandwiches that I’ve made.

How many sandwiches do you make in a day?
MITCHELL: I make as many as 850 to 900 in one day.

Why is friendship important at work?
FRANKIE: Because it helps you get along. You understand each other better so you work better. Because if you don’t understand each other, it’s no good. You need peace. For anything, you need peace. Peace is the most important thing to me.

Mitchell, what should people know about Frankie?
MITCHELL: Frankie’s a good, kind, and giving person. That I know for a fact. He’s always been my friend. He started out a friend, and he’ll always be a friend. Like, more or less until death do us part. … Frankie used to motorcycle; he’s the motorcycle man. I rode with him on the bike a couple of times, then he started teaching me to ride and we’ve been friends ever since. And he used to box.

FRANKIE: I was a gym fighter. I did more training and boxing at the gym, but I fought at Madison Square Garden one time. I fought up in Boston one time. I used to fight at the Veterans Hospital up in the Bronx. I was in the Golden Gloves. I never really won all the way, but I was in the Golden Gloves back in the ’50s.

Frankie Gray

What do you want people to know about Mitchell?
FRANKIE: He’s a nice guy to get along with and, like I said, I’ve known him all these years. And he’s the best of the best since I’ve been working here that I know and that I’ve worked with. We used to go to car races together, down in Englishtown, New Jersey. We had some good times.

OK, back to food. Doesn’t someone have a funny ice cream story?
FRANKIE: Oh, yeah, that’s Mitch.

MITCHELL: My first position at the hospital was running ice cream cups from the kitchen to patient rooms, floors 12 through 17. I’d take my tray with about 10 or 15 cups on it, go up to the 12th floor, make my deliveries, and then go back downstairs to restock. I couldn’t use the elevator because, if I had to wait, the ice cream would melt. So I ran up and down those stairs with my tray, bringing desserts to the patients. It didn’t bother me, but I was much younger at that time … he’s a year older.

FRANKIE: Don’t rub it in the ground, man.

MITCHELL: I’m the young one here.

You’ve said working here feels like a family. How so?
FRANKIE: At NewYork-Presbyterian, you can be anything you want to be. You can go from bottom to top. You can be a nurse, a doctor, a whatever. It’s up to you. You can climb. You don’t have to stay in one place and that’s a good thing.

MITCHELL: A lot of people start out working as a tray carrier, and now they are nurses. I know a lot of people that left [the kitchen] and went on to be nurses.

What’s the key to living a long life?
MITCHELL: To me, it’s don’t worry. Don’t worry about stressing. I avoid stress. I don’t let nothing stress me. If something stresses me, I just leave it alone.

FRANKIE: My problems, I try to keep them to myself and work them out. Because sometimes, when you talk to someone else about it, it makes it worse than it really is. You just need to take it easy.

What is something you have learned from each other over the years?
FRANKIE: I learned respect, and he’s given respect in return. And that we get along good, and we understand each other.

MITCHELL: I’ve learned the same. We always get along. I don’t think about anything else but being his friend and him being my friend. I’m here for him and he’s there for me.