Beryle Bunny Peck got her nickname from her father. The eighth of 12 children, she learned to cook on a wood-burning stove in rural Wilkes County and wore an apron with a bunny on it. The nickname stuck.
So did the apron.
She wore one while working full time as a lunch counter cook, waitress and manager, and again every night as she made dinner for her five children.
Customers knew Bunny Peck well at McCrorys in downtown Raleigh, a five-and-dime with a lunch counter known for its simple, home-style offerings like liver and onions, grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate on New Years Eve. And she knew not only what their favorite menu items were, but whose wife was pregnant, whose mother was ill, and how they took their coffee.
Under her rule, no staff was allowed to say, Thats not my job, said Sharon Creech, the youngest of Pecks children. She would know: Her first job at age 16 was waitressing under her mothers watchful eye.
The perfect name for someone working at a blue-plate special kinda joint. But dont let the soft and fuzzy connotation of the word confuse the fact that Peck was the rock of her family. Since she died last month at the age of 85, her familys appreciation of her has only grown.
Peck started waitressing for the McCrory Corp. in the early 1960s at one of the stores in Winston-Salem, soon rising to manager and also bringing in what would be the familys only stable income.
The job was ideal for a woman of her era with a ninth-grade education. It allowed her to be home for dinner with her children and use skills she inherently possessed. She was a natural manager tough yet fair and had a knack for cooking comfort foods.
Peck was so effective as manager in Winston-Salem that the McCrory Corp. offered to relocate her family to Raleigh so she could manage the downtown shop, which had been on Fayetteville Street since 1929. It was 1968, and not only did the company pay for her move, it also paid her husbands growing medical bills and agreed to cover her rent until her children finished the school year she refused to uproot them mid-semester. The Pecks would ultimately settle in Knightdale on a lot she would decorate with gardens and birdhouses.
About 10 years later, when she was widowed after 31 years of marriage, she lived solely off her wages. Her children marvel at how well she managed her finances. Upon her death, she left no debts.
McCrorys eventually became a Dollar Zone and then closed completely in 2001. By then Peck had retired, but not before receiving numerous awards and recognition during her 30 years of service. She had also retired from a second career as second-shift manager of the cafeteria at Glaxo Wellcome in Zebulon. It was there she challenged the cafeteria chef to a cook-off, during which she proved her thesis that the only difference between a chef and a cook was that chefs make sauces and cooks make gravy and people prefer gravy.
Peck spent the last decades of her life finally relaxing, though she never relinquished her independence, at least mentally. She was a matriarch with five children, 22 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren.
As one might imagine, a lunch counter waitress named Bunny of course smoked, and she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1998. She survived a partial lung removal but was also diagnosed with COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In the end, she would contract pneumonia. In June, she died rather peacefully, her family said.
On one of the last nights Sharon spent with her before the pneumonia set in, they were able to talk about the meals Peck was known for. Never one for recipes, Sharon was hoping to glean more detail about how to measure things like until it tastes good. She hopes to put together a cookbook for their entire family.