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Nobody Can Belt It Out Like He Can : You could say David Price has found his calling. The lunch-menu reader extraordinaire makes even ‘rolls’ sound exciting.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The voice could cut through sheet metal--high-pitched and twangy, a madcap mixture of a coon dog’s howl and a TV preacher’s rantings.

“TREA-SURE of the OCEAN . . . that’s TUN-a NOO-dle CASSEROLLLLE! . . . or PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA! . . . KER-nels of CORN . . . warm, spiced CHERRRRIES . . . CRUN-chy VEG-gie BITES . . . and a ROLLLLL!”

This is the menu for Monday, Jan. 8, 1996, for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, courtesy of the one and only Lunch Menu Man--David Price, a former car salesman who has parlayed a brief weekly phone message into a peculiar fame.

The Lunch Menu Man can be heard on radio stations across the country. He has appeared on a national TV talk show and cut his first album. He’s even done a couple of commercials.

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It’s hard to fathom all that has happened to Price since September, when he left his job of 10 years selling cars to take a job in the advertising department at the Concord Tribune.

He had always wanted to be a country singer, but did not view his new position as a ticket to fame and fortune. “I wanted,” Price said, “to spend more time with my girls"--wife Cathie and daughters Maria, 3, and Kara, 2.

One of Price’s first duties at the newspaper was to record the weekly lunch menu for Cabarrus County Schools for a call-in line.

“It was kind of dull doing the same thing every time,” Price, 33, said. “I figured, ‘No one’s listening anyway, so let’s joke around a little.’ ”

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He noticed that nearly every day’s menu seemed to end with fruit and a roll. “By Thursday, I was doing it, ‘FRUUUIIITT . . . and a ROLLLL!’ ” Price said, his eyes twinkling.

When his wife heard the tape, she worried that he could be fired. “I said, ‘Nah, let’s leave it,’ ” Price said.

Soon, the Tribune’s switchboard was swamped with calls for the lunch menu line. There were 200 calls in September, 5,000 calls in October--and 35,000 calls in November. As a point of reference, the Tribune has a circulation of just 13,200.

Then, several radio stations in and around Charlotte heard about him, and began to play Price’s recitations of school lunch fare.

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The Lunch Menu Man was ready for the big time. He left his job and went on to declaim the lunch menu for the state’s largest school district on the Charlotte Observer’s information line.

“CHICK-en LICK-in NUG-gets . . . with KET-chup or SAUCE . . . a dinner ROLLLL . . . mashed POTATOES . . .broccoli-woccoli? Jell-O and FRUUUIIITT.”

The Lunch Menu Man precedes his bread-and-butter recitations with exhortations against dropping out of school, and offers to visit classrooms so he can spread that message.

“Call me if I can help,” he implores. “It doesn’t last that long. When I went to school, school was cool!”

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Price had no idea how popular he had become until a friend asked him to take a walk through downtown Concord.

“He brought me into about 15 different businesses in town,” he said. “He would say, ‘Do you know who this is? It’s The Lunch Menu Man.’ ”

They all knew the Lunch Menu Man; the legend had taken hold.

The Charlotte paper doesn’t pay him for his work, so the Lunch Menu Man is a scrabbling guy these days. He has cut commercials for cars and cellular phones. All 400 copies of his Christmas album--which Price recorded in one day--are long gone. Another album is on the way. He’s peddling T-shirts.

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The Lunch Menu Man even has an agent.

“We’ve probably heard from 30 or 40 radio stations who want him on,” said Andy Smith of Insight Talent in Charlotte. “He’s the hottest thing in town.”

Smith is talking to some large companies that might want an unforgettable pitchman; after all, while dietitians can make school lunches nutritious, only the Lunch Menu Man can make them entertaining.

“I’m ready for the big time now,” Price said. “So far, I’ve just broken the ice. I’d like to be a household name.”

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To hear the Lunch Menu Man, call (704) 377-4444 and enter code 1013.


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