James E. Thomas, who kept the meals comforting as owner of a landmark near-downtown restaurant, died Wednesday in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center. He was 94.
He hadn’t recovered from injuries suffered in a one-car crash in Oregon when he was driving himself to exercise class, his son, Ron, said.
Mr. Thomas owned Bud & Luke on Madison Avenue for 32 years, but he worked at the restaurant for more than 55 years until it closed in mid-December, 1996.
“He didn’t stay that night to watch me lock the door,” said his son, who became owner in 1982. “It hurt him. It was the end of an era.”
The restaurant was known for its slogan, “Hello, Friend,” in large script on one wall, and its from-scratch baked goods and such reliable fare as turkey with dressing and meatloaf.
“My dad was gregarious and enjoyed people, and that was a people business,” his son said.
Bud & Luke in its prime often served more than 700 meals a day, attracting downtown noontime business and evening crowds, although the Mother’s Day with 1,556 diners set a record, his son said.
Then came shortened lunch times in the business world and the migration of office jobs out of downtown. Retired couples remained loyal, but young families weren’t coming.
“We were a business that existed on the volume, not the price,” his son said. When that volume fell to an unsustainable level, the younger Mr. Thomas closed the business.
Patrons for decades knew Bud & Luke for its calm, even sedate, atmosphere. When Mr. Thomas started there in the late 1930s, the restaurant, founded by brothers and auto salesman Eugene “Bud” and Glenn “Luke” Fowler, had a reputation for the antics of its waiters — the brothers’ car salesmen friends, who led community singalongs and banged on pots and pans.
Mr. Thomas was a manager when he left for Army service in World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. His superiors, learning of his background, put him in charge of a hospital kitchen in liberated Paris that served 2,700 meals daily.
He was a former president of the Northwest Ohio Restaurant Association.
Born Aug. 25, 1919 in Rutherford County, Tennessee, he was 5 when the family moved to Toledo. He was a graduate of Scott High School and an elder of Echo Meadows Church of Christ in Oregon.
Raida Thomas, his wife of more than 70 years, died in February, 2011.
Surviving are his son, Ron; daughter, Karen Shepherd; brother, William; sister, Pearl Gifford; five grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren.
Visitation is 1-8 p.m. Friday in the Eggleston Meinert & Pavley Funeral Home, Oregon Chapel. Services will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the church, where the family will greet guests after 12:30 p.m. The family suggests tributes to the church building fund.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: email@example.com or 419-724-6182.
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