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Published: Tuesday, 5/22/2001

Betsy Ross to be history after 39-year run in Toledo


It's not true that Betsy Ross stitched the original U.S. flag in a booth at the west Toledo coffee shop that bears her name. But the eatery did have a brush with fame when Jim Nabors, a singer best known for playing the title role in TV's Gomer Pyle, ate there during a local engagement.

The Swiss-chalet-look establishment, which is practically ancient in today's fickle world of hot-today, gone-tomorrow restaurants, will scramble its last egg tomorrow after 39 years.

Growing competition, declining business, and the value of the prime piece of property on which the restaurant sits at Monroe Street and Secor Road prompted owner Jane Weiler and her son, Don, to call it quits.

“It's a seven-day-a-week job and we're both tired out,” sighed Mrs Weiler, 80. She and her late husband, Bob, took over in 1963 when the original owner experienced financial problems.

Owners Don Weiler, left, and his mother, Jane, with employee Thomas Taylor, say they're tired from the restaurant's demands. Owners Don Weiler, left, and his mother, Jane, with employee Thomas Taylor, say they're tired from the restaurant's demands.

Business is booming on weekends, but weekdays are slow, Mrs. Weiler conceded. “You can't pay the bills on weekends alone.” Empty tables outnumbered occupied tables over the lunch hour yesterday.

The closing is sad news to longtime employees and loyal customers of the establishment, which opened in 1962 as an Original House of Pancakes outlet and was converted a few months later to Betsy Ross.

“It's disgusting,” customer Alice Mertes said in an overstatement that nonetheless conveyed her disappointment. She has eaten breakfast and lunch there for 30 years.

“She used to eat dinner here, too, until we stopped serving dinner,” the owner added with a chuckle.

Ms. Mertes attends Mass at a nearby Catholic church every morning and comes in afterward for breakfast. Nieces and nephews introduced to the restaurant in childhood insist on returning during occasional visits from their homes in San Francisco, the customer said.

Forty-five-year-old Chris Napierala came to work as a waitress after high school graduation and has stayed 26 years. “It's sad,” she said of the closing. “We're like a family here. Customers bring in their children and grandchildren to show us.”

Steve Burt joined the staff as a dishwasher 26 years ago when he was in his mid-teens. Senior cook now, he said he'll miss the place. But exhausted after whipping up so many of the blintzes for which the restaurant is noted, he plans to take time off to lie on a beach and sip margaritas.

The owner, who with her husband opened a restaurant called Dagwood Diner nearby in 1949, remembers when the bustling Franklin Park area in which the establishment is situated was remote farmland.

She has been negotiating to sell the property for nearly four years and is talking about selling the site to the Walgreen drug store chain.

An auction of the restaurant's furniture and equipment is set for May 30.

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