I am ancient enough to remember when we only had certain opportunities to buy cooked food in Xenia. There were always small, usually family owned restaurants and, at least in the East End, there were a few casual eateries run out of people’s homes. Some of them like Ma Davis on Market Street across from East High were carryout only–she made a chicken pie to die for! Some like Mama Thelma’s on Fair Street actually had a table you could sit at with other folks and eat. I am sure there were others I did not know about. We were very territorial in those days. It is hard for young folks to grasp, but my parents frowned on me wandering more than a few blocks in any direction, that was one thing that made getting integrated so exciting. Central Jr. Hi was a good three or four blocks from my house, compared to going to school next door at East.
Casual dining was available downtown at several places. Although Dirty Greeks/Candy Kitchen and Geyer’s Restaurant did not cater to black folks, the lunch counter at Kresge’s had no such bigotry, and their food was probably way better. Nothing like a good grilled cheese sandwich made with real butter, or a turkey hot shot dripping in turkey gravy that did not come from a can. After you had your entrée, if you still felt hungry Kresge’s could satisfy your sweet tooth with a root beer float, with the root beer pulled from an enormous fake barrel, or you could visit the extensive and marvelous candy counter.
If it was baked goods you craved, Smith’s Bakery on West Main was the place to go. I have never had chocolate chip cookies that good since they went out of business. I presume Ruth took the recipe with her to her grave. Another bakery the Dutch Oven opened on North Detroit Street sometime when I was in high school or slightly before, it was okay, but nothing to write home about and the lady that owned it always acted like she felt you were disturbing her for some reason, nothing like the warm, friendly welcome and chatting up you got at Smith’s.
If you were mobile, had a car, you could go to Frisch’s Big Boy out on Rte 35 and Allison Avenue, or you could swing by the A&W Root Beer Stand, run by my classmate Sally A’s dad which was on Dayton Avenue. Both Frisch’s and the Root Beer Stand had waitresses who would come out to the car. I do not think they wore roller skates at either establishment, but I am not sure. Frisch’s was popular as a hangout spot for the white kids in Xenia, I think it eventually spread to the blacks, but was never as frequently by black teenagers in cars cruising and stopping to talk and eat as it was white white teens. In the 1960’s it was a rare teen who had his or her own car, regardless of color. My boyfriend then, husband now, was lucky in that respect. His parents had a relatively cool car, a Chevy Impala, and they never went anywhere in the evening so it was almost always available for his use. We did not cruise Frisch’s together, have no idea if he cruised after he took me home.
As I got to be an older teenager we had some additions to our choices for food and hangouts, noticeably the Red Barn on West Main Street. This was fast food at its finest, drive-thru and all. They had great fried chicken and the first salad bar that I ever encountered in Xenia. Mrs. Billingsly, the mother of one of my friends was the head cook and seemed to run the entire place so we always got a little extra in the food department when we went there. The Red Barn rather usurped Frisch’s as the hang out parking lot, or more accurately, it became the hangout parking lot for the black kids while Frisch’s remained popular with the white kids.
Out on North Detroit was the Say-HA-Do restaurant, which morphed into Nick’s bar. Say-Ha-Do was famous for its fried chicken, something that continued when it changed into Nick’s. My father used to stop and buy us chicken dinners there and bring them home, we never ate in during those days. I do not think it was segregated, even though the same family owned it that owned Dirty Greeks, but they served liquor and beer there and my parents did not consider it an appropriate place to take children. I have to admit to having taken my own children there to eat on more than one occasion, but then by that time we knew all the people, regular just plain folks and drunks, who frequented the place and that seemed to make it more harmless. Nick’s was and probably continues to be a hangout for Xenia High Teachers when I was working at the high school .
Fine dining in that era meant leaving town, there were no fancy restaurants in Xenia. The Old Mill, out on US 42, almost to Cedarville was about as fancy as it got close to town. Although it was owned by the O’Rourkes, a black family, I am not sure if the diners were integrated. The gold standard at that time was, for some reason, The Golden Lamb in Lebanon which was widely touted by my white classmates as a very fancy restaurant. I have to admit to being rather disappointed when I visited it as a young adult.
Of course, people did not eat out nearly as often as they do now. Our big break from home cooked food was when my father would bring home boiled ham and cheese and chips on Friday nights sometimes and we would have sandwiches and chips and cupcakes from the bakery, all of which I considered delicacies!
I was in high school when the first pizza place opened. I had never had pizza before my first taste of I-T Pizza, and I almost never had it again. The host of the party where this avant garde for the time food was served had them put anchovies on it and I did not like the taste at all. I soon got into the glories of the pepperoni pizza though and love I-T, which was originally located on East Main.
I-T features in one of my favorite teenage stories. I have already written about how the males in our group had two different tiers of female companions, those who they took to public events like dances and proms and football games, who did not “put out”, and those who they then visited with after they took us home. Girls who did generally put out and who had either understanding or disengaged parents who did not care when, or if, they came home. One evening, as was reported to me by someone there, there was a card party at one of the After-Hours Girls’ houses. About midnight people began to get hungry and decided to see if they could order some food. Someone suggested they order some pizza from I-T. One of the AHG named Patti Lou, who was known for fighting and for rough language, but was actually quite an intelligent and funny person, volunteered to make the call. She called I-T and when they answered the phone proceeded with her order in great detail, only to be told when she finished ” I am sorry, but we are closed. ” Drawing herself up to her full height Patti Lou screamed into the phone , “Then what the fuck did you answer the phone for?” Patti Lou has been dead for more than a decade, but I have to admit that every time I call a business and they answer the phone and tell me they are closed I think about her and laugh.