Nearly every day but Christmas for 39 years, Frank J. Yoch would man the cash register at the front of the Village Dairy on Shiloh Street, the Mount Washington institution he owned where numerous regulars counted on everything from buying milk and lunchmeat to chowing down on simple breakfasts or the famous Fizzle Burger.
Mr. Yoch, a voracious reader on his feet while also a dedicated entrepreneur opening the place daily at 7 a.m., at times had said he'd never retire but finally agreed with wife Joyce in 2008 to let go. It was mourned by everyone from the professional people like opera singers and newspaper columnists on nearby Grandview Avenue to the more blue-collar mix in other parts of the neighborhood.
The Yochs spent the past five years in a simple, relaxed retirement, taking time to travel in way they never could before. Mr. Yoch was in good health until being diagnosed with cancer in September. He died Monday in his Baldwin Borough home at age 75.
For four decades, he made the 15-minute drive every day from that home up to the deli-restaurant he had started in 1969 with his wife's brother, Jack Zimmerman. The store was connected to the Sealtest Co. dairy, which set stores up on the model of the Isaly's chain, but Mr. Yoch and his brother-in-law were the owners.
In its busiest years, the Village Dairy -- or "The V.D." to many regulars -- was open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. most days, with as many as 25 employees. Mr. Yoch later scaled back closing time to 4 p.m. Mr. Zimmerman eventually sold his share of the business.
Joyce Yoch became part of it in the 1980s, running the kitchen while Frank worked the counter up front.
It was a mom-and-pop store combined with a classic diner, with steel counter stools, formica tables and a milkshake machine. There was little updating over the years, which was the way customers liked it.
"They put it in in 1969 and the only thing that changed was the paint on the walls," said Dave Spinelli, owner of the nearby Hair Hut salon and one of the morning regulars who for decades would challenge one another with trivia while also attempting to settle the world's problems.
"There never seemed to be any strangers there," said Roy McHugh, a former newspaper columnist and longtime Mount Washington resident. "It didn't have an atmosphere like you were going into a business. It was more like you were going in there to see people."
Mr. Yoch was the pleasant but generally low-key greeter standing in the front of Village Dairy. When there was no one to wait on, he often had his nose buried in any one of the books of all kinds he was constantly borrowing from Carnegie Library's Mount Washington branch. His wife was always the chattier of the two.
They were at their busiest during Sunday brunches, when 14 counter stools and another 14 booths were often full. Oktoberfest celebrations, when Mrs. Yoch would make German specialties in addition to the muffins and sweet rolls she was long known for, also were popular.
The Fizzle Burger, a specialty at multiple Village Dairy locations, consisted of chipped ham with melted cheese on a toasted bun.
By the time the Yochs closed the Shiloh location five years ago, some years after both the number of hours and employees had already been scaled back, they were ready to relax. A newspaper story on the final days noted how the mournful regulars felt like a family was breaking up. Back in 2002, when their store was threatened with forced relocation by a drugstore expansion plan that was eventually dropped, 1,500 supporters of the Yochs had signed a petition in protest.
"Frank said the hardest part about retiring was leaving all the friends in Mount Washington," his wife said.
But Mr. Yoch also seemed to have a lighter, cheerier mood about him after leaving the stress of the store behind, said his son, Bruce, one of the four Yoch children who all helped at the Village Dairy in one manner or another. In addition to traveling to Florida and elsewhere to visit friends and relatives, the Yochs became regular volunteers for the Lenten fish fries at Holy Angels Church in Hays.
"We'd be there from 9 to 7 every Friday," Mrs. Yoch said. "That was nothing for Frank after all the years at the store."
In addition to his wife and son Bruce, of Mt. Lebanon, Mr. Yoch is survived by two daughters, Nancy Allen of Bethel Park and Judy Rumpler of Wexford; another son, Brian, of Brentwood; two brothers, Dennis Yoch of Naperville, Ill., and Keith Yoch of Richmond, Va.; and two grandchildren.
Friends will be received from 2 to 8 p.m. today at Boron Funeral Home, 1719 Brownsville Road, Carrick.
Funeral prayers will be at 9:45 a.m. Saturday, with a Mass at 10:30 a.m. in Holy Angels Church in Hays.
Gary Rotstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1255.