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Published: Friday, 3/19/2004

Developing Toledo's tastes

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

When the history of food in Toledo is written, there's a host of women entrepreneurs who will have left their mark on the 20th-century food scene. They were leaders in the food industry at a time when women were not always major players in management.

Through the decades they have built and expanded businesses that provided quality food service and enduring food products, and taught innovative cooking concepts. They introduced the community to food trends which later became classics.

From Grace Smith's cafeteria of the 1950s, which won the praises of Duncan Hines nationally in his reviews and cookbooks, to Nancy Packo Horvath, who partnered first with her father and later with her brother to expand the family business and eventually a product line, the legacy of these women endures.

For many, such as Betty Timko, one thing led to another: her high food-service standards led her to partnering with Bennett Enterprises, expanding the reputation of the famous Betty Salad, and subsequent retail of Betty's Dressing. Innovative cooking classes were taught by a very young Nina Simonds in the 1970s; in two years she introduced a world of cooking via her classes at University of Toledo and Bueche's. Today she is a highly regarded expert on Asian cuisine, author of acclaimed cookbooks, and well-known food personality nationally.

These women represent others who have made their mark on the Toledo food scene, from Gen Dokurno - prominent in this town's restaurant scene for nearly 50 years with Northwood Villa and Northwood Inn, to Connie Barron, whose family came to Lucas County as migrant workers and built a Mexican food reputation with Loma Linda and Ventura's.

Chronicling these food entrepreneurs was my predecessor, Mary Alice Powell, who as food editor of The Blade between 1954 and 1995, provided recipes and opinions that were valued by those in the food industry and home cooks.

Some made their culinary fame and fortune beyond Toledo and the Northwest Ohio region. Most prominent is Susan Feniger, one-half of the Too Hot Tamales duo with Susan Milliken (native of Michigan); the business partners have several restaurants, including Border Grill in California and Las Vegas and have cookbooks and TV cooking shows.

Grace Smith was known for excellence in food service. With her sister, Ora, and financial assistance from their father, Boyd, Grace Smith opened Smith's Cafeteria in 1916. The first day it served 1,100 customers according to Blade newspaper archives.

As the restaurant prospered decade after decade eventually moving to the corner of Erie Street and Madison Avenue in 1930, it became known for cleanliness, excellent service, and top quality food. Duncan Hines, the noted traveling salesman turned restaurant critic, visited Grace E. Smith's Restaurant in Toledo in 1937, says his biographer Louis Hatchett. "He wrote 'This is a place that has changed my attitude (positively) about cafeteria food.'" Recipes from the restaurant such as Chicken Velvet Soup and Orange Bread were printed in Adventures in Good Cooking by Duncan Hines.

In 1940 Grace Smith was elected president of the 12,000-member National Restaurant Association, the first woman ever chosen for the organization that was 90 percent male. She was a pioneer in hiring professional home economists as food supervisors and managers. She was a strong believer in following recipes.

"She made the best lemon meringue pie," recalls Irene Kaufman, who is a gourmet entrepreneur, cooking teacher, and caterer in Toledo. "I grew up eating at Grace Smith's. Grace Smith was incomparable. Everything was meticulous. It wasn't that expensive. The cafeteria was on one side and the seated restaurant was on the other side."

When Grace Smith died in 1955, there were six restaurants including Smith's Cafeteria, Smith's Coffee Shop, Smith's Pastry Shop, Smith's 711 Madison, Spitzer Fountain Room, and the Tick Tock Restaurant. Following her death, the cafeteria was run by her brothers until 1965 when it was sold to ABC Gladiuex Corp. which closed it in 1971.

Nancy Packo Horvath knew how to market her product, Tony Packo's Restaurant and Food Co. started by her father in 1932. She became full-time manager of the popular restaurant in 1962, which grew to four locations.

After actor Burt Reynolds dined at Tony Packo's while playing in The Rainmaker in 1972, he signed a hot-dog bun, which became a tradition that continues today. Approximately 1,000 signed and framed buns buns decorate restaurant walls, according to her son Robin Horvath, COO of the company.

In 1976, actor Jamie Farr said in a M*A*S*H episode that Tony Packo's had the greatest Hungarian hot dogs in Toledo. When Ms. Horvath called to thank him, she shipped two coolers full of Tony Packo products - frozen hot dogs, sauce, and pickles to the chef at Twentieth Century Fox. Later Packo's was written into five subsequent M*A*S*H episodes.

In the 1970s, she started packaging Tony Packo's Pickles and Peppers. "She and her brother Tony Jr. were certainly a team," says her son. "She took my grandfather's restaurant and made Tony Packo's fun through the antiques, the buns on the wall, changes in the music." While Tony Packo Jr. had a hands on approach to the food, his sister "was the consummate hostess. She knew how to make people feel at home."

She was a past president of the Northwest Ohio Restaurant Association and received the Pacesetter Award for Manufacturing from the Roundtable for Women in Food Service in 1984. Ms. Horvath died in 2003.

Betty Timko was a noted restaurateur in northwest Ohio and southern Michigan. She developed the signature Betty Salad and bottled its salad dressing that continues to be produced today.

In the 1960s, Betty and her partners formed Timko's Restaurants, Inc. and opened Timko's Soup'n Such in Toledo, which eventually expanded to four locations. During 1979, the restaurant located in the Holiday Inn-I-75 Perrysburg (now Holiday Inn Express) was converted to a Timko's Soup'n Such as well as the restaurant at Holiday Inn of Monroe, Mich. Today the Holiday Inn - Perrysburg is known as the French Quarter and all are part of Bennett Enterprises.

In 1982, she formed a company called Timko's Enterprises, Inc. to produce Betty's Salad Dressing for retail in supermarkets and food service companies.

In 1956 she won the Mrs. Toledo title in the Mrs. America Contest sponsored by the Young Matrons of the YWCA. Afterward, she began catering in the homes and churches for different organizations.

It was while she was Club Manager of Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania in 1962, that she became known for the Betty's Salad, which is Toledo's signature salad. An authentic Betty Salad is made with mixed greens (lettuce and spinach), bean sprouts, diced eggs, and bacon crumbs. The signature salad dressing is tomato-based, sweet and sour, with seasonings such as minced onion and Worcestershire sauce.

Through her career, Betty received many awards. In 1971 she was named Restaurant Manager of the Year for Holiday Inns International System. She served on the original committee that set up Hotel and Hospitality courses at Ashland College in Ashland, Ohio and served on the Hotel and Management committee at Tiffin University in Tiffin. She died in 1996.

Nina Simonds organized two of the first gourmet cooking school programs in Toledo, one at the former Bueche's landscaping shop, another for the University of Toledo continuing education division. Not only did she introduce many of her students to Chinese cooking, "I was doing French regional and Chinese regional," she says.

Ms. Simonds, grew up in New England and then studied one year at University of Wisconsin. In the 1970s, she headed off to Taiwan at age 19 and spent three years studying cooking; classes were conducted in Mandarin. In 1975, while visiting her family who had moved to Akron, she met Toledo's Don Rose at Boogie Records in Akron. He was one of the founders of Boogie records here; he sold his interest in 1978.

During this time, she worked and studied for a year at LaVarenne a bilingual French cooking school directed by Ann Willan.

Thus, Ms. Simonds arrived in Toledo in 1977 prepared to cater French dinners in homes and teach Chinese cooking with private lessons. "I fell in love with Don (Rose)," she said in a phone interview. The couple have been married since 1979 and have a 15-year-old son.

"I fell in love with Toledo," she says. She turned to Bueche's, which she describes as a greenhouse, florist, and kitchenware store. "I approached them with the idea of doing a cooking school. Besides the classes, on Saturdays, we did free demonstrations to show people how to use the cookware," says Ms. Simonds. "We wanted a quality cooking school." They also did food tours.

"It was a wonderful place. People were so interested and excited to learn. I think the experience shaped me. It helped me learn to teach," says the author of eight cookbooks.

When Don sold his share of the business, "I went back to Taiwan to translate a cookbook and Don went around the world," she says. "I used to go back to teach cooking classes at University of Toledo."

Through the years, the couple have lived in London, Asia, and New England. Today they reside in Salem, Mass. where she is working on another book.

Contact Kathie Smith at:

food@theblade.com

or 419-724-6155.



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