Memorable Restaurant Experiences on the Eastside of Columbus
Growing up the youngest of three boys on the Eastside of Columbus in the 1960s, I’ve always felt cheated that I was “born too late.” My older brothers were able to enjoy the fruits of youth offered up by the late 1950s and early 1960s like Buckeye Lake Amusement Park, drive-in restaurants, and eventually, that fun idea invented exclusively for their generation–the military draft. But fortunately I was able to lasso the last train out of the baby boomer generation, catching a ride on the continued birth and growth of a convenience-oriented way of life. The Bordon milkman stopped delivering, the trips to the Big Bear at Great Eastern became less frequent, and my generation no longer found it necessary to sit around the dinner table every evening at precisely 5 P.M. ala John Boy and the Walton Family. Instead, we stared eagerly over a grease-spotted paper bag and a group of wax cups in some sort of intricately designed cardboard holder as our dinner was ceremoniously distributed according to ingredient preference and placement inside the bag itself. Thus began my childhood on the Eastside of Columbus, Ohio in the 1960s. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was to grow right along side the fast food industry as it matured into the global industry it has become today.
Allow me to take you back in time through my personal recollections of memorable restaurant experiences on the Eastside of Columbus. Please remember that although I have an outstanding memory for such useless yet timeless minutia, I may not be totally correct on everything I am about to share. And I would be more than happy to relive your memories as a means of expanding my knowledge and perhaps recalling some of the facts trapped in the cobwebs of my brain stem.
Long before there were golden arches on nearly every corner, the burger and fries routine was dominated by two extinct species known as BBF (short for “Burger Boy Food-O- Rama”), and Burger Chef. In fact, the only McDonald’s I can even remember from the late 1960s was located at the end of Fairway Blvd. at Hamilton Road. It was one of the old style outside walk-up window designs, and still occupies the same location today (although no traces of the original restaurant remain). When Eastland Mall opened, a McDonald’s was opened on Winchester Pike in Berwick (since closed), and eventually in my high school days, McDonald’s surfaced at the corner of Livingston and Brice (also closed). Unlike the kids of today, our family rarely visited McDonald’s even though they had the best fries (back when they cooked them in animal fat!).
Our burgers of choice were available only at the BBF, located under “the whirling satellite” on Hamilton Road, across the street from the Great Eastern Shopping Center (the spot is now occupied by a Ponderosa Steak House and a Waterbeds ‘N Stuff). BBF sold my favorite burgers, simple cheeseburgers with ketchup and mustard. No secret sauce, just plain old burgers. The fries were good, they had decent shakes, and although I never tried it, I think they even sold fried chicken.
Flippo the Clown was their shill for a few years, too. I can almost taste the BBF even as I’m writing this! Another large Eastside location was on East Livingston, just before the I-70 Freeway. I remember they had a much larger parking lot, and the “hoods” and motoheads would gather on Friday and Saturday nights to show off their ‘Cudas and GTOs But as with all things wonderful, BBF had troubles maintaining market share and sold off to Bordon in the early 1970s. A brief run under the name “Bordon Burger” failed miserably, and there were virtually no similarities in the products at all.
The first Burger Chef opened in Indianapolis in 1954. Between 1966 and 1969, they experienced outstanding growth under the new ownership of General Foods and had opened their 1000th restaurant. It was during this growth that Burger Chef arrived on Columbus’ eastside. I remember two locations–one on East Livingston at Beechwood, just east of Courtright Rd., and the other on East Main Street in the front of the Zayre’s Department Store special parking lot (currently an AutoZone). What made Burger Chef special, to my taste at least, was the “flame broiled” burgers and real milk shakes. I fail to realize that many who read this may not even remember that “shakes” were once cold, and manufactured from dairy products, unlike today’s warm vegetable shortening globs that have the texture of a nasty sinus infection. Burger Chef shakes, especially the chocolate and strawberry, resembled current Steak and Shake products. And Burger Chef was cutting edge on marketing, advertising, and product
General Foods also owned the Jax Roast Beef Restaurants, which we’ll discuss shortly. Unfortunately, as a result of their meteoric growth in a short period of time, General Foods would eventually abandon their interest in further Burger Chef expansion, and by 1982 had sold out to Hardee’s. It was at that time that Burger Chef and Jeff disappeared from Columbus forever. Throughout the country, all Burger Chefs followed suit and either joined the Hardee’s family, or closed.
Burger King, which began in South Florida in the mid-1950s, did not experience nationwide expansion until the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, the only Burger King I can even recall on our side of town was built at its current location just west of Hamilton Road on East Main Street in Whitehall. Our only Wendy’s, which I tried for the first time ever at their Ohio State Fair tent outside the Agriculture & Horticulture Building, was also in its current location on East Livingston Avenue, just west of Yearling. I always remember visiting this location specifically for my father, who was finally being offered the ultimate burger for the mansized appetite…the Wendy’s Triple. And for Mom, she had to have her White Castles which, in the 1960s, involved a trek all the way into Bexley. I vaguely remember the Capital University White Castle, which was no larger than a meat freezer, and how it seemed as though it took hours to get there from home just to satisfy my Mother’s craving for sliders.`
Finally, although my memory is somewhat hazy on this due to their closing when I was probably about five or six, Eastsiders had both a Hasty Tasty* and a Sandy’s. One of them was located at the corner of Hamilton and East Main in Whitehall, and I also recall one of them being shut down by the Board of Health for leaving traces of the peel on their french fries! Both of these restaurants were well known in the Dayton-Springfield area before staking a claim in Columbus, and their demise was probably assisted by customer loyalty to BBF.
* in 1970 Jules Sokol purchased the Hasty Tasty Drive-in on Parsons Avenue. His wife, Nita, renamed the chain Tee Jaye’s. “Tee” comes from her love of golf and “Jaye” is her son Randy’s middle name.
For some odd reason, the idea of pizza was reserved for special occasions in our house. For example, pizza always followed the last football game on Sunday, during the hour prior to “The Ed Sullivan Show.” And Sunday pizza was always from Massey’s on East Main in Whitehall. Although they are still at the same location, the only Massey’s I have found to have that old-time authentic Massey’s taste is the one in Reynoldsburg which is independently owned. Unfortunately, we could only afford one large pizza in the late 1960s and it was always decided to go “all the way” except anchovies, of course. That was bad for me as I had given up eating vegetables at the age of 6, and was relegated to stripping off several layers until I reached the bare essentials of sauce and crust. It’s a wonder that I ever developed a taste for pizza at all. Weekday pizza, which was rare, came from Tommy’s at Hamilton and Livingston. And whenever we had subs, they also came from Tommy’s, which I’m proud to see still does a healthy business after all these years becoming an Eastside landmark of sorts. I think they even have that John F. Kennedy picture still hanging on the wall that’s been there since I was five! And I almost forgot, when Mom didn’t want to mess up the kitchen with spaghetti, we hopped in the Buick and headed for the original TAT at Livingston and Beechwood (across from the Burger Chef). My folks loved TAT’s spaghetti, even though Dad found a beer bottle cap in the carton one time. The original, and very small, TAT location burned in the late 1970s and the family moved to their current location at James and Livingston.
DRIVE-INS and RESTAURANTS
Unless we were on the road somewhere, my family rarely saw the inside of a real, sit-down restaurant. With three boys in the family, at least my parents had the respect for others who didn’t wish to eat in an environment which included three hell-raising hooligans. I only wish more parents thought like that today. Of course, with my Dad’s modest earnings we could barely afford pizza more than once per week, much less a nice meal at The Top in Bexley. I didn’t see the inside of The Kahiki until Prom Night in 1977 (words cannot accurately describe the Kahiki), and I’ve still never been to Del Matto’s on East Main Street. I never saw the inside of The Desert Inn on Broad Street until it became the Playboy Club (and then I wished I’d never seen it).
There were times when Mom would take me up to Emil’s at Main and Hamilton (currently Arby’s and Daddy O’s), but that’s primarily because she had a thing for their strawberry pie. I can still remember standing at the checkout counter with my face pressed up against that refrigerated pie case at Emil’s.
And there were times when we frequented the Frisch’s Big Boy on Main Street (which is now a Mi Mexico restaurant) for a “Buddy Boy” and that amazing fudge cake. In my early years,
I can remember visits to the Dog ‘N Suds on East Main in Whitehall, located within walking distance of the Miles East Main Drive In Theater. And although I don’t recall too many visits, the eastside also had a Stewart’s Drive-In Root Beer Stand on Yearling Road up until only a few years ago. As I grew older and Dad became more prosperous in his business, special evenings were spent at The Longhorn steak house in Reynoldsburg, which has since changed its name, probably after a nice donation from the Longhorn Steak House chain. But for the most part, nicer restaurants simply weren’t visited by the Boster clan as a youth.
ROAST BEEF, CHICKEN, AND TACOS
For some odd reason in the late 1960s, fast-food restaurants placed a huge emphasis on roast beef sandwiches. I had no complaints as the early attempts were outstanding, specifically my favorite, Saxon’s Roast Beef on Hamilton Road. Located just about a block south of Main Street in Whitehall, Saxon’s had the best beef sandwiches I have ever tasted. Real roast beef, none of that gelatin deli beef loaf we’ve accepted over the past few years. And they used to use this metal bell-shaped devise which would pass your beef over this shot of steam hole. I don’t know what purpose that served, but I fell for it. The Saxon’s restaurant is currently the shell for Key Bank and looks exactly as it did when I was munching roast beef in the parking lot thirty years ago. At the same time, Jax Roast Beef had opened all the way down East Main, just west of James Road. Again, they had awesome, real roast beef sandwiches, but they were practically in Bexley and that was too far to trek from my hood. Jax would eventually be purchased by Burger Chef in the late 1960s, and changed their name briefly to Rix Roast Beef, before eventually becoming Rax in 1977.
The first and only Arby’s Roast Beef I can recall was located in the front of the Whitehall Department Store (currently National City Bank offices) parking lot on East Main Street, and probably arrived in the late 1960s. The first Arby’s opened in Boardman, Ohio in 1964 and the franchises started to appear nationally around 1967. Oddly enough, at least from this palate’s point of view, the Arby’s Roast Beef sandwich couldn’t compare to Jax or Saxon’s, yet to this date, Arby’s is the sole survivor. Incidentally, for those obsessed with trivia, the Arby’s name was derived from the two founders Forrest and Leroy Raffel–the Raffel Brothers–or RB’s.
If you wanted fried chicken on the eastside in the late 1960s, your options were limited to Grandma’s Original Recipe located next to McDonald’s at Fairway and Hamilton, or the lone Kentucky Fried Chicken on Hamilton Road, halfway between Livingston and East Main. Grandma’s was a greasy offering and it was tough to tell the white meat from the dark. The Colonel had buckets of chicken and excellent mashed potatoes and gravy. Unfortunately, our local KFC was rocked by a real-life urban legend involving a rat and a deep fryer, and we sought the refuge of the newly opened Reynoldsburg location. The Kentucky Fried Chicken on Hamilton Road probably suffered greatly from this well-known incident, and is now a used car lot. But let’s face it, no one could fry chicken like Mom did at home. Unless she whipped out that crap called “city chicken” which consisted of, well, I really don’t know what in the Hell city chicken was.
Taco Bell founder Glen Bell opened his first location in Downey, California in 1962. It took a long time before any franchisee would gamble on take-out Mexican food in Columbus, Ohio. Yet I remember our one and only eastside location on South Hamilton Road, between Main and Broad, just south of Bill Swad Chevrolet and Marineland public pool. Today, the original Taco Bell is home to King Gyros. Featuring the traditional early mission design with the sleeping Mexican under a sombrero, this Taco Bell was slow to impress fellow eastsiders. In fact, I can remember a limited menu of about five items. And since I didn’t like the lettuce they put on the tacos, I was forced to eat the dreaded “Bellburger,” which was a sloppy Joe with some shredded cheese. It’s hard to imagine that a diet consisting largely these days of Mexican food was introduced to the cuisine via The Bellburger. Just north of the Bell was the competitor, a long-forgotten franchise called Taco Rancho. Most everyone called it Taco Raunchy because the ground beef didn’t actually resemble beef. It had an odd reddish tone to it and tasted a bit like Food Club dog food. As a quick sidenote, in the mid-1970s a new Mexican restaurant appeared called c. Our eastside locations were the current site of the Taco Bell at Brice and East Main in Reynoldsburg, and on East Broad just west of Yearling (now vacant). Zantigo offered, quite simply, some of the best Mexican food I have ever eaten to this day. Their cheese enchiladas, which no one had ever offered via fast-food fare, were outstanding, and their packs of salsa had tremendous flavor. Unfortunately in 1978, Pepsico (Taco Bell’s owner) bought KFC, which also owned Zantigo. Some Zantigo’s closed immediately, some were converted to Taco Bells and they let the market decide which locations would survive. For a while on South Hamilton Road, Taco Bell’s were on either side of the road. Over the years, they they shut down the lower volume competing locations. To this day, many Taco Bells are in Zantigo buildings. (Graceland to right)
Through the magic of modern technology, you’re still going to have to use your imagine as I take you on a virtual restaurant tour through my neighborhood. We’ll start in Reynoldsburg, which was considered “out in the country” when I was young. It’s hard to imagine Brice Road with two lanes and lined with houses, and East Main from Noe Bixby to Old Reynoldsburg was practically non-existent. First up is Don’s Briarcliff (now a Burger King at East Main and Briarcliff), a small drive-in with a cool neon sign depicting an old sedan driving forward and back. Our next stop would be the Twin Kiss, just west of Rosehill Road on East Main. It was just a little booth of an ice cream stand, but they were the first that I can recall to mix the chocolate and the vanilla flavors into one cone! Headed west, we past the afore mentioned Longhorn Steak House, which was located just behind Howard’s Hobby Store where most of my fondest ghosts reside. And now it was a lengthy ride past run down bars until we reached the eastern edge of Whitehall. Beginning at Country Club Road–that was my neighborhood–the action really picked up. On the right side was and is Del Matto’s Cucina Italiano, and then Miles East Main Drive-In Theater. Across the street is Frisch’s Big Boy, just a few more yards away on the right is Dog ‘N Suds Drive In. We approach Great Eastern Shopping Center, home of the Big Bear, Grant’s Store, and Gray Drugs in the 1960s. After the obligatory stop at the fabric store (I’m still having nightmares about fabric), Mom usually takes us to Isaly’s (if we’ve behaved in the grocery) for the “skyscraper” black raspberry ice cream cone. The cone resembles Beldar Conehead’s cranium, and almost always wound up on the seat of the car before arriving home. If you were hungry, you could even order an Isaly’s Swiss Cheese sandwich, or brave the dangers of David’s Buffet (aka Duff’s Smorgasboard). Across Hamilton Road is the whirling satellite of the BBF and Lum’s, famous for steaming their hot dogs in beer. Just south on Hamilton Road is Shakey’s Pizza, the Taco Rancho, and the Taco Bell. At the intersection of Fairway Blvd. and Hamilton is Grandma’s Original Recipe Chicken and our only neighborhood McDonald’s. Headed south out of Great Eastern, you’d run into Pete’s Red Pig Diner (now a CVS Pharmacy) on the corner of Hamilton and East Main. Continuing South on Hamilton Road, Saxon’s Roast Beef is on the right (next to the old Huntington Bank), Kentucky Fried Chicken is across the street, and just a bit further south, you can still find Tommy’s Pizza at the corner of Livingston and Hamilton. Before you turn West onto Livington, you could have stopped into Shady Lane Pharmacy (now a pre-school) which was one of the last sit-down soda fountains I can ever remember. Across the street, next to the firehouse, was Cooper’s Drugs where I bought all of my baseball and football cards. Headed west on Livingston, you can still pass the Resch’s Bakery (which is where I got to go if I’d really been good), home of the best chocolate chip cookies ever before they started slipping walnuts into them (like I wouldn’t notice!). In the same parking lot sits our original eastside Wendy’s. And just past the post office, nothing but memories where the old Burger Chef and TAT used to be. Turning right on Courtright, we head back over to East Main Street. Few remember that Main Street is the original Route 40, so it shouldn’t seem strange to find the Bambi, Homestead, and Alamo Hotels lining East Main in Whitehall. But alas, most of those are now gone as well, as is the Eastside Drive-In Theater which was located just across the street from the popular Robinwood Pharmacy (with a soda fountain). The huge Zayre’s Department Store is now Speedz indoor go-cart racing, and the Burger Chef in the front lot rests under an AutoZone. The original building which housed former Buckeye All-American’s “Jim Otis Time Out” Lounge still stands empty, but several of the old eastside taverns such as “The Silent Woman” and Mary Mo’s “Stop 40” are still busy (although Mary Mo isn’t sharing the marquise anymore).
Thanks for joining me on this tour…I’d be happy to visit your neighborhood memories sometime.