During the early 1940s, I lived in Spartanburg, S.C. My oldest sister dated an unusual fellow at the time. He was a classmate at Spartanburg High School. Samuel C. Roper was an unusual guy and he remained as one of my vivid memories on a number of counts. Not too many young men had a goat as a pet. My sister’s boyfriend, Sam, not only had a pet goat, but he was an entrepreneur as well, selling the goat’s milk for profit.
I was very much aware of Sam’s goat for each time he would visit our home, the goat would be with him and my sister and Sam would pressure me into trying to drink some of the milk. Despite their insistence about how healthy it was, I declined every invitation to partake in the ghastly stuff.
We moved to the Orlando area in 1945. One of my earliest jobs as a teenager was with, would you believe it, the goat-man himself, Sam Roper. (That was when you only got jobs with family friends.) In 1947, Sam opened Roper’s Grill at the corner of Orange Avenue and Mills Street (Orlando Avenue) in Winter Park, just blocks from my home. We called the intersection the famed “Gateway.”
Although Sam’s Roper’s Grill was opened as the first one-man hamburger
Stand, he soon collected a number of employees and was one of the first to have “car hops” serving cars.
On a given night, it was no exaggeration to say that you could see almost everyone you knew from Winter Park High School, Orlando High School and
Rollins College at Roper’s, together with a handful of airmen from the Orlando Air Force Base. Many a life-long romances probably occurred for the first time while parked under the lights at Roper’s.
Most of the lucky folks had dates and sat in their cars to watch the ebb and flow of friends and carhops. Despite all of the excitement, as one of Sam’s cooks, I was assigned to merely stand in a small, glass-encased corner of the stand, tearfully chopping up onion rings. Sam was a caring, generous boss and I was thrilled with my wage of 50-cents an hour.
Sam also had another first: a neon sign on the street front portraying a cook flipping hamburgers with a progressive number of how many hamburgers he had sold. Sam Roper’s Roper’s Grill will forever live in the fondest of memories for folks of my generation. Roper’s Grill became an icon of that innocent 1950s generation in the Orlando area. (You can see photos of
Roper’s Grill at the exhibit “Growing Up Wildcat: Winter Park High School Through the Years,” which will commence on Jan. 25 at the Winter Park Museum in the Farmer’s Market.)
On the 21st of December 2012, I attended Sam’s funeral. His will be a precious memory. Oh yes, I remember most vividly Sam telling me that the proceeds from the milk of that one little goat was what set him up in business in Winter Park 66 years ago. Not bad, from a goat to an icon!
Way to go Sam!
— Ed Wycoff, former employee, Winter Park’s Roper’s Grill
Associate emeritus professor, University of Central Florida
Winter Park Historical Association, member
Winter Park High School Sports Hall of Fame, member