QUESTION: There used to be a sandwich shop chain (with a store in Longview) called Alvin Ord’s. Its logo depicted a monk carrying a large sandwich.
A few stores remain. One of the restaurant’s websites says the sandwich concept was started around 1970 by a former Longview resident named Alvin Ord Johnston, who later ran off to join a Trappist monastery. The first store was supposedly opened by Johnston’s nephew in Austin. Is this story true? Who was Alvin Ord Johnston, and where is he now?
ANSWER: I talked to two of Alvin Ord Johnston’s nephews, and they say the story — which really seems like a sad story for their family — is true.
It’s a story, by the way, that’s also wrapped up in the beginning of the Schlotzsky’s franchise chain of restaurants.
I found a 1980 News-Journal article in which former Longview residents Don and Delores Dissman recounted starting Schlotzsky’s in Austin with another former Longview resident, Alvin Ord Johnston, in the 1970s.
Rick Skinner, who now lives in the Nacogodches area, and his brother Randy Skinner, who still lives in Longview, described their uncle Alvin Ord Johnston as a “mild eccentric” and a “bit of a hermit.” Rick Skinner believes Johnston, who was his mother’s brother, is likely dead considering that he would be in his 90s now. It’s been almost 50 years, he said, since Johnston disappeared and sent their grandmother a postcard saying he was trying to join a monastery in Washington.
Johnston was “very talented” and gifted, Rick Skinner said, as well as a voracious reader and “very devout religious man.”
He said the bread recipe originally used by Schlotzsky’s was one his grandmother made in coffee cans in her kitchen where she lived on Gilmer Road.
The Dissmans and Johnston started Schlotzsky’s restaurant in 1971, Rick Skinner said, and Johnston disappeared in 1972. While Johnston wasn’t violent and didn’t use drugs, he was not a “responsible person,” his nephew said.
“He had done this once before,” Rick Skinner said, recalling how Johnston had once left on an errand with the family’s car and trailer and was gone for seven years.
The Skinner brothers worked at Schlotzsky’s restaurants in Austin while they were in college. The Dissmans later sold the company, and Rick Skinner said he started Alvin Ord’s Sandwich Shop using his grandmother’s bread recipe in about 1979 or 1980. He also later sold his sandwich chain.
The family never heard from Johnston again after that initial postcard, although Randy Skinner thinks their mother had some success in confirming that he had in fact been successful joining the monastery.
“It was hard on his mother, who was my grandmother,” Rick Skinner said.
Q: Did the Gregg County elections office have trouble recruiting election workers for the Democratic primary voting that’s underway because of COVID-19 concerns?
A: Elections administrator Kathryn Nealy said concerns about the pandemic did not prevent her from finding enough workers for the Democratic primary runoff.
“Getting workers for (Election Day on Tuesday) was not hard. Getting voters for two weeks of early voting was hard,” she said. “We had probably, out of about the 40 or 50 people I called, only six of them declined due to COVID concerns. We had more say, ‘No. It’s summer. I’m going on vacation. ...’”
Most of the usual workers who declined did so because voting doesn’t usually take place in July. (Remember this primary runoff was delayed from May to July because of COVID.)
She was able to get the 34 workers needed for early voting, which ends Friday, and the 24 needed for Election Day, she said.
Election workers are paid, so that offers some incentive.
“When I called all my workers, I reassured them we would have protective gear in place for them, that our main concern was to protect them,” she said. The county is providing workers with masks, gloves and hand sanitizer and taking other steps to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during voting.
Early voting continues 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Friday on the first floor of the Gregg County Courthouse and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Judson, Greggton, Broughton and Kilgore community centers.