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The Return of (G.D.) Ritzy’s

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 16, 2018

Ask residents of Columbus circa 1980 to 1991 and most will have fond memories of G.D. Ritzy’s. Many have a favorite item they remember from the era that Ritzy’s was a growing empire. In one online discussion about the new Ritzy’s one person was indignant that a vegetable dish from the early days was not in the current menu. I could not even remember said item, but to each their own. Ritzy’s model was to deliver 1950’s style food and service to the 1980’s. For the most part it worked. However, Ritzy’s was doomed to use the model that most Columbus based food businesses of the 1980s and early 1990’s followed – expand too much and too fast and land in bankruptcy (Damons, Max & Ermas, Cooker, Rax, 55 Restaurant Group, Salvi’s…..) the list goes on.

During the peak of the empire, there were one hundred plus locations throughout the Midwest. A handful of franchises survived the fall of the company and to this day, there are original locations including Huntington West Virginia and Owensboro Kentucky. I have visited both. These locations do not offer all of the original menu but show that the concept is sustainable. Ritzy’s was known for thin burger patties, old-fashioned hot dogs, shoestring fries, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and home-made, super premium ice cream with big chunks of ingredients in the base.

My own memories Ritzy’s were hazy at best. Two things kept me from crossing the threshold very often, my budget and my job. I worked at Knight’s Ice cream so Ritzy’s was a competitor. My sole focus of my sophomore and junior year of high school was to save up money to buy a car. Making $2.85 per hour and later making $3.50 per hour as a very young supervisor, it took a long time to save for a used 1979 Chevy Camaro. I did not have the budget for Ritzy’s. While I was a student at Watterson, and the Clintonville Ritzy’s was a briefly a hang out for the high school crowd, I never had the right pedigree to be part of those reindeer games so I opted out. I do have strong food memories of the few times I did venture in – I loved the fries and ice cream. Doing and informal poll of other Columbus residents of my generation, fries is always the answer when asked about what menu item was their favorite.

There as a brief resurgence of the ice cream part of Ritzy’s with a short-lived Vienna Ice concept with Mozarts in 2011 which helped keep the ice cream memories of the business alive at least as a reminder of days gone by.

Graydon Webb was part of the original Ritzy’s team and is the leader of the resurrected concept with his sons Bryan and Corey Webb and family friend Drew Devilbiss. The site selected for the relaunch has a lot of history to it. While it was a used car lot for a very long time, for much of the 1970’s to early 1990’s is was an A&W Root Beer, an independent hot doggery called (I think) Frosty’s and perhaps for less than a year the site of a (Dayton based) Casano’s Pizza. Most of those entities featured drive and park service. The Webb’s had to work with the city to make some adjustments to the street lights and intersection to make entry and exit a bit easier and the resulting work delayed opening day for some time. The site finally opened in September of 2018 and has continued with brisk business since.

The space is small, seating about forty people. There is also a small outside dining area for the warmer weather. There is an outside service window for ice cream ordering. The walls have posters and old ads from the original G.D. Ritzy’s including some from the original Clintonville location. The menu brings back the hits from the 1980’s. The burgers are made with a special blend of ground beef, buns are baked in-house daily, the shoestring fries are hand cut and the a rotating selection of 48 ice creams are offered 16 flavors at a time. The food business consultant/mystery shopper in me could not help but notice that the layout of the kitchen and ice cream area creates a few significant bottlenecks in service and observationally, the distribution of work among employees seems to be uneven at best. On my two brief visits I witnessed one or two employees with too many tasks on their plate and the rest with too few or none. I’m sure these workflow issues will resolve over time but a major need is a redesign of the grill prep area and I can’t see enough available space to make that work. My best advice would be to be patient during peak hours and have a good idea of what you want to order before it is time to start the ordering process.

When it is time to order you are given the option of choosing your own toppings for your burger and hot dogs and these are assembled for your Chipotle style (which was Ritzy’s style in the 1980’s) in front of you. Burgers and hot dogs are grilled when you order them. I had forgotten how thin the burger patties were. They are just a bit thicker than a White Caste patty with frayed edges. Most diners would be best off with a double or triple burger to get more meat in their meal. I found the hamburger part of my burger to be lacking in flavor however I did order a single. The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts, at least with my burger order. The bun was very fresh and the variety of ingredients to pile on can make for a tasty burger experience.

I also tried a hot dog. I was very pleased with the entire hot dog experience. Ritzy’s scored points with me by doing things “right”. The bun was a fresh, grilled New England style bun. The hot dog was all beef and looked like it might have been sourced from Falter’s meats. The coney sauce was the perfect consistency and seemed to be a differently spiced take on Cincinnati style chili.

The fries did not disappoint either. These are classic, hand cut shoestring fries. I could find no fault in them, I could have eaten pound of them if such an option was available. The potato flavor really stands out. Guests are given the option to pile all types of extras on to the fried but the fries can easily stand on their own.

On to the ice cream. To date, I have tried four flavors. As I mentioned before, my first job was in an ice cream shop. I know how to make ice cream and have high standards for it. If I ever made a fortune and have free time, I will take the famous Short Course at Penn State then open an ice cream shop in Athens. In the meantime, back in reality, I think Ritzy’s does an exceptional job with their ice creams. The flavors are rich and flavorful, filled with large chunks of chocolate, cookies, etc. There are several tiers to ice cream with Super-Premium being the highest. What this translates to is a dense ice cream (less air in the mix) with a high fat content (more cream) and high quality ingredients throughout. Ritzy’s holds its own to Graeters and Handels both of which are exceptional in my book with their super premium ice cream offerings.

Overall, my Ritzy’s experience was good. I hope Ritzy’s learned a lesson from (G.D.) days gone by and if growth is in the future, grow the business slow and steady instead of fast and furious so they can sustain this good thing for a long time.

Where to find Ritzy’s
4615 North High St
(Clintonville/Beechwold Borderlands)

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