Monday, September 17, 2018

Pop and Sizzle

The back of a customer comment card I swiped from one of the Evansville, Indiana G.D. Ritzy's contains the following copy:

“A visit back to the old-time goodness of G.D. Ritzy’s is deliciously special indeed.

G.D. Ritzy’s Award-Winning Luxury Ice Creams, voted one of the 4 best ice creams in America are created with dairy-fresh cream and milk, pure cane sugar, egg yolks and bursting with beboppin’ goodness.

G.D. Rity’s Grilled Coney Dogs are 100% pure beef and pop with every juicy bite.

Our 1940s Style Hamburgers are grilled right before your eyes. Shaped and seared on our extra-hot grill, they’re served crisp on the edges and tender in the middle.

And G.D. Ritzy’s Slow Cooked, Secret Recipe Chili. A rich tomato stock blended with chunks of sauteed beef, a delicate blend of spices, and the finest, freshest toppings.

It’s all a delicious Part of G.D. Ritzy’s Luxury Grill & Ice Creams.

G.D. Ritzy’s Has What The Other’s Have Not ..

Pop Sizzle & Bebop”

About half of the places that I write about, I’m experiencing for the first time. When I walk into a Roy Rogers, Ollie’s Trolley, or Arthur Treacher’s, I like to think that I can assess the establishment’s merits and shortcomings in a more or less objective way. I never intended to become an amateur restaurant critic. Instead, I set out to experience and document often overlooked pieces of history. But somewhere along the way, I fell into a groove of jabbing gently, and occasionally not so gently, at the foibles of the anachronistic businesses I patronize. It’s easy to be witty when you’re talking about a suboptimal dining experience, but difficult to make a post praising an establishment an engaging read. With little to no emotional skin in the game I feel little to no remorse skewering the places where my experience was less than perfect. Understand that I’m not sharing this information as a preamble to turning over a new leaf. I’m sure that I’ll continue to lambaste the occasional eatery, and even more occasional retail establishment, provided that I have sufficient emotional distance to maintain objectivity, but if there’s one chain I lack emotional distance from, it’s G.D. Ritzy’s.

G.D. Ritzy’s was hands down my favorite place to eat as a kid, and it’s sudden disappearance and subsequent long absence from my life made my heart and stomach grow fonder. Some of the earliest road trips that helped me discover my passion for forgotten fast food over a decade ago were to the holdout G.D. Ritzy’s locations in Indiana and Kentucky. It was a trip to the Huntington, West Virginia G.D. Ritzy’s last December that served, partially, as my inspiration to start this very blog. Earlier this year, I made a pilgrimage to every operating G.D. Ritzy’s location that culminated in me meeting chain founder Graydon Webb, who was working with his sons and a family friend to open a new Ritzy’s, the first in its one-time core market of Ohio and surrounding states to open since 1990. Last week, that new Ritzy’s opened. I drove down to Columbus to have lunch there on its fourth full day in operation, not fully realizing my closeness to the Ritzy’s brand would make the experience exceedingly difficult to recount here.

The previous weekend, I was travelling through southern Indiana, and made the obligatory stop at the University Boulevard G.D. Ritzy’s in Evansville for lunch. The six surviving franchised Ritzy’s are owned by three separate longtime franchisees, and while each franchisee’s locations have evolved a bit over the years and all have their own individual charms, the Evansville locations are my favorite. Their buildings, menus, food, furniture, even cups and tray liners, are all identical to the long-gone Lexington, Kentucky Ritzy’s locations of my childhood. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, powerful enough to draw me 450 miles from my home to Evansville for the sole purpose of eating at Ritzy’s no fewer than three times this year. (I’ve also been to the two Owensboro, Kentucky Ritzy’s one time each, and the Huntington, West Virginia G.D. Ritzy’s three times in the past ten months.) My secondary motivation for the stopping there, a distant second from nostalgia, was to have a fresh memory of my favorite Ritzy’s when I ate at the new location the following weekend. I had no doubt that the new Ritzy’s, while updated a bit from the original concept, would still have the same pop, sizzle, and bebop as my favorite locations in Evansville, but I thought it might be fun to compare the new Ritzy’s to the old. I figured it would be a unique angle. People would be flocking to the newly opened and long anticipated Columbus Ritzy’s, and the Evansville G.D. Ritzy’s locations are as popular as ever, but very few people, perhaps only me, would have been to both within a week, and all the other Ritzy’s in operation in the past six months. Every experience I’d had in the old Ritzy’s from Indiana to West Virginia had always been stellar. Why wouldn’t a shiny new Ritzy’s run by the founding family be any different?

An unforgettable luncheon in Evansville.

The new Ritzy's in Columbus, Ohio
At this point, you, the reader, are probably thinking that I’ve led you to some lofty precipice so that I, the author, may shove you over the edge in a dramatic reveal about some abysmal experience I had at the new Ritzy’s. I can assure you that said precipice is no more than an inch and a half drop. Congratulations. You’ve reached the anticlimax of this post. All things considered, my experience at the new Ritzy’s was pretty good. Given that the place, at that point, had been open for business for three full days with brand new staff, and that droves of nostalgic locals (and not so locals) had been lining up out the door from open to close for each of those three days my experience was more than satisfactory. Still, I left after my meal feeling vaguely disappointed. Some hard reflection has helped me realize that this disappointment is my own fault and not the fault of the new Ritzy’s.

The main focus of Broken Chains has been longtime holdouts of otherwise defunct chains. My exploration of decades-old businesses left me ill-prepared to fairly evaluate a place that had been open for half a week. My lifelong love for the G.D. Ritzy’s brand, and past exemplary experience at more seasoned Ritzy’s locations left me with expectations far too high to give the new Ritzy’s a fair shake. When you’re used to A++ experiences, an A- can be tough to cope with at first. 

I’m not even going to discuss the specific shortcomings of my experience at the new Ritzy’s. All you need to know is they’ve got the pop and sizzle, but the bebop needs work. I have no doubt that they’ll master said bebop in good time. To discuss the minor imperfections of my experience at the fledgling restaurant in detail would be picking the proverbial nit. I’ll admit to having nitpicked in previous blog posts, and I’ll continue to nitpick in future ones, but I have way too many emotions tied up in G.D. Ritzy’s to be give it the same treatment. I never set out to be a critic, and there are certain things that I can’t bring myself to criticize. 


  1. I had heard of G.D. Ritzy's before reading your blog. Mainly from prolific Flickr photographer Nicholas Eckhart's similar interest with them. However, I had no desire to ever visit one. However, the tag line of Pop, Sizzle, and Bebop is begging me to make a stop next time I'm running through Columbus.

    1. Hey I've been by that Papa John's, and the old Zantigo around the corner. There's also an abandoned Rax near there.

      Ritzy's is definitely magical, a fast food experience that became too rare too quickly. I hope the Columbus location can be successful and hopefully lead to expansion.