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State of the Arts: As Restaurants Come and Go, Bob's Hamburg Stays the Same

Bob's Hamburg is a beloved greasy spoon in Akron known as much for its unchanged décor as its food. But there could be a change in ownership coming. On this week's State of the Arts, WKSU's Mark Arehart takes us to the restaurant that’s stood in the same spot for nearly 90 years.

The grill can get pretty crowded at Bob’s Hamburg. As a stream of mostly regulars comes through the door on a chilly November morning, the restaurant's owner and resident grill-master Aimee Buckeye greets many by name. 

It's her patrons that have kept this restaurant frozen in time since Bob Holbrook first opened its doors in 1931.

"They wouldn’t have let me change anything, (the) regulars," Buckeye said between stints on the grill flipping eggs and pouring pancakes.

"No, nothing is any different, still the same grill, still the same refrigerator, still the same recipes. Every once in a while we’ll throw a new one into the mix, but we don’t take any out."

The Regular Crowd

It’s a bit too early for a burger, so most are sitting down to bacon, eggs or oatmeal along with the morning paper.

"At my age, the doctor recommended oatmeal. So that's what I'm having," Cecil Hill said over his hot cup of coffee.

He's been coming to Bob's for decades and said he recognizes most of his fellow regulars.

Many have memories of Bob’s from childhood, like Janet Dunn who started coming here with her parents.

Janet Dunn remembers coming to Bob's back when it's original owner roamed the grill.
Credit Mark Arehart / WKSU
Janet Dunn remembers coming to Bob's back when it's original owner roamed the grill.

"I like to watch Aimee cook, or whoever’s cooking. It’s the entertainment here. The grill is really small, but the food comes out really good," Dunn said.

The grill is maybe three feet by two feet and Buckeye says it's as old as the building itself. 

"It’s well seasoned. That’s part of the character of Bob’s though, is having the original grill. It’s not something you could change."

Grill Therapy

She said it's the routine of owning this restaurant that helped her get through one of the most difficult periods in her life. "I got sick the January before I bought the restaurant. I was diagnosed with breast cancer."

She went through chemo and radiation, all while taking care of her young children.

"(The cancer) kind of threw a monkey wrench into everything, but Bob’s kind of helped me through with all the regulars and the business and the atmosphere."

I asked her why she decided to buy Bob's back in 2011 as she was going through treatment. 

"(It was) a little backwards. That’s kind of what got me through though, between my kids and the restaurant." 

Even during chemo, she was the one who opened the diner most mornings. 

It's the tiny grill that gives Bob's food that signature flavor.
Credit Mark Arehart / WKSU
It's the tiny grill that gives Bob's food that signature flavor.

Passing the Torch

As the breakfast rush fades away and there's a little calm before the storm of the lunch crowd, Buckeye tells me after seven years it might be time to pass on the magic of Bob’s to someone else.

"I’m in nursing school. I’m almost finished. I’ve got about eight months left to be an RN. So it's kind of pulling me, tugging me in different directions."

So she has quietly put the restaurant on the market, looking for the right kind of buyer.

"I don’t want it to change at all," she said. "Don’t change any recipes. Come in and enjoy. There are days that it's like anyplace else, it's hard work, but it's perfect."  She is in no rush to sell and if she can’t find that perfect buyer, she'll find a way to keep the restaurant open.

Bob's is famous for its namesake: the hamburg.
Credit Mark Arehart / WKSU
Bob's is famous for its namesake: the hamburg.

Because she knows no matter what there will always be regulars like Janet Dunn and Cecil Hill who want Bob’s to stay just the way it is.

"Well actually it's like a family," Hill said. "Most of the time they know what I want."