Even after decades of managing and owning restaurants, Vaughn Sayers reaches back for his mother's recipes.
''This recipe is from my mother from the 'love, money and depression' era,'' he says with humor, knowing full well that it begs an explanation.
Vaughn Sayers of Caesar’s Italian Restaurant in Warren makes his mother’s Salisbury steak recipe Thursday in his Cortland home.
There were six children at home, plus his dad had three before that. Donna Sayers was adamant that the child support was paid. That meant living frugally. At the time, ground chuck was 3 pounds for $1.
''So Mom came up with a bunch of different recipes for hamburger,'' he said. ''And I still like them to this day.''
Sayers, 64, is the owner of Caesar's Italian Restaurant in Warren, a business in its 37th year. He said he still cooks at work a couple days a week, so he doesn't ''get rusty.''
2 pounds ground chuck
1 cup bread crumbs
2/3 cup chopped onion
Make into 8-ounce ovals, and cook in large skillet.
Lift out cooked Salisbury steaks. Drain any grease from skillet.
For the gravy: Put 2 quarts water in skillet, and bring to a boil. Add beef base. Bring to a boil. Mix approximately 1 pint of water with 1 1/2 to 2 cups flour. Thicken mixture in pan with the flour-and-water mixture. When gravy has thickened, return steaks to the pan.
But he said he doesn't mind cooking at home.
''Well, the wife doesn't cook, so it wouldn't matter if I did,'' he said.
Sayers didn't start out wanting to be a restaurant owner. He went to school for pre-law at Kent State Trumbull. During college, he began working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, where they offered him a management position. After managing three different stores (not at the same time), he became the district manager of eight restaurants.
Spending 10 years with the company left its mark. The specialty at Caesar's is chicken and chicken wings.
''I have a chicken background, and I find it easy to work with,'' Sayers said.
A recipe like Salisbury steak is easy for Sayers to make, but not easy to write down - like many restaurant people, he doesn't measure. Even though he makes this dish three or four times a year, he's saying ''hopefully'' two cups of flour, and ''at least a tablespoon to start'' of the beef base, which is like bouillon but stronger-flavored.
After cooking the steaks, he drains the grease and leaves ''all the good stuff'' in the bottom of the pan.
Always learning, he uses a new method for the gravy that he saw on television - pour the flour and water mixture into the pan through a strainer.
''A little trick I use so you don't get flour balls in your food,'' he said. ''You gotta do it quick.''
The gravy is on its way.
''I taste as I go,'' he said, quickly followed by ''Mmmm, that's good.''
He also enjoys making goulash, spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf and Spanish rice.
The restaurant on West Market Street was a joint venture with Vince Cibella from 1976 through 1981, when the Sayers family took over.
Vaughn Sayers says location is not much of a concern - the majority of their business is delivery, along with some dining room and catering customers.
He also has hope for the area.
''I really believe that with the Marcellus Shale coming into the area, businesses like Caesar's are going to improve,'' he said.
For example, a recent visit from the BP company netted six huge takeout orders in one night.
Vaughn and Lucille Sayers like to eat other places, as well.
''When you're in the restaurant business, you tend to critique,'' he said. ''But just because I talk about things doesn't mean I don't enjoy it.''
The Sayers still works quite a bit - in addition to the restaurant, they have rentals at Geneva on-the-Lake and in Tennessee.
And he's into the arts.
''I miss the Kenley players. That was a different time,'' he said.
The couple still attend plays at local theaters and enjoy going to New York City - the list of television and Broadway shows they've taken in is extensive.
The smell of dinner - also served with corn cooked in real butter, potatoes and a Caesar salad - calls to ''the wife'' mentioned earlier.
''If he didn't cook at home, I wouldn't eat,'' Lucille Sayers said.
''We'd all starve,'' agreed daughter Laurie, one of three children and a manager at Caesar's. ''We learned to cook at an early age.''
''He worked day turn, and I worked night turn,'' Lucille Sayers explained.
Again, dinner calls.
''Oooh, he's makin' that good gravy.''