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April 16, 2008 > Dining out in Centerville

Dining out in Centerville

Finding a place to eat and sleep has always been a problem for weary travelers. Pioneer merchants established hotels, livery stables and bars to meet the needs of these travelers. Early business directories listed saloons, grocery stores and bakeries where food could be purchased, but they seldom mentioned cafˇs, restaurants or diners.

The History of Washington Township records that in about 1851, George Lloyd, one of the first men to locate in Centerville, owned property on what would become Main Street and served refreshments to the hungry and thirsty from his blue tent placed by the roadside. Regular meals were later provided by a series of hotels. Whatever records were kept was apparently lost when these hotels burned.

James Lewis erected the United States Hotel in 1859 and ran it until his death. Mrs. J. B. Lewis advertised the hotel as a "Good summer resort for families and a first-class house" without specific reference to meals.

Centerville became a more popular eating center when Henry Gregory established the famous Gregory House in 1869. However his early advertisements were all about the livery stable, horses and carriages to let, rates for boarding houses and stage connections. An 1898 ad did boast that this was "the leading hotel in town," and had a first class table that was "second to none in the state." It became a tavern and rooming house in the l930s and was razed about 1949.

During the period of the Gregory's decline, Magior's, originally a bar across the street, moved into the building. It became popular for its 25 cent plate lunch. In 1931 El Lido Restaurant also moved into the Gregory property, offering French and Italian dinners.

The Lincoln Restaurant, which in 1910 was mainly a liquor store serving "wedding cocktails after the wedding," advertised itself in 1924 as "The best place in town to eat."

In 1924, Doering's Campus Service featured lunches and fountain service. At the same time, Laumeister's offered the usual fare, but was especially proud of their Laumeister's Candy which was advertised as "Everywhere-Always Pure." Laumeister's became the DuRay Lunch Room in about 1930, and also served as the Peerless Bus Depot.

A popular destination, located on the corner of what is now Fremont Boulevard and Thornton Avenue, was the Broken Drum. In 1927 it was managed by E. A. Harrison, and advertised a Merchant's Lunch of a half fried chicken or Virginia Baked Ham. Later, the Broken Drum was owned by Mrs. Elsie Hegan and her son Don. Local old timers remember that they had a back room where folks gathered to play pedro.

The Broken Drum was taken over by Pete and Peggy Johnson in 1945 and renamed the California Cafˇ. Their specialty was southern fried chicken. Newspaper ads indicated that they were open from 6:30 a.m. till midnight and encouraged the public to call 111 for reservations.

The Black and White Cafˇ, owned by Jack and Violet Klein, sat next to Washington High School, and in 1936 advertised, "The Best Eats in Town." Anthony Silva and his family took it over in 1937. For a period of time, the Centerville Lions Club made it their regular meeting place. The restaurant offered special Sunday dinners for 49 cents, weekday meals at 40 cents and plate lunches for 25 cents. The restaurant's close proximity to the high school made it an attractive destination for students who smoked. Those who attended Washington High in the 40s remember seeing administrators escorting students back to campus!

Also near Washington High was the Varsity Cafˇ. Their slogan was, "A Workingman's Meal at a Workingman's Price" and was operated in the late forties by B. Mech and E. J. Sabina.

When the Kleine's left the Black and White, jeweler A. E. Anderson on South Main Street retired, and the Kleine's established a restaurant in the building, calling it Kleine's Cafˇ. Later they took over a former bakery next door and opened a bar. At that time it was called "one of the finest dining and entertainment centers in Washington Township."

Another popular place was the Cloverdale Creamery owned by the Bauhofer family for many years. Its milk shakes were deemed "the best in town," and its attractive fountain and lunchroom served as a meeting place for local residents as well as travelers.

Soon after the end of World War II, growth began in the area. The population increased and housing tracts were under construction. They were quickly followed by fast food and chain restaurants. Studying the dining scene in Centerville today-from fast food to white tablecloth - it's hard to imagine the humble beginnings in that little blue tent by the side of the road.

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