Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Truth about the Teddy Bear and Fried Pickles

On Facebook, I accidentally found an open group that anyone can join called Has Anyone Actually Heard of Wapakoneta.

Now, since I’ve not only actually heard of it but am actually from that little town in Ohio, I decided to have a look-see. One of the first things I see is some guy BS-ing about how something he really misses are the “deep-fried pickles” from “a little restaurant called the Teddy Bear that invented them”. He then goes on until the BS gets hip-boot deep, saying that the owners sold out and moved to Colorado and, like, nobody every heard from them again. Which is a load of unmitigated crap. How do I know, after living in South America for 35 years that this is a ‘stretcher’? Because the Teddy Bear family restaurant was my family’s family restaurant.

So I joined the group and this was my first contribution to historical fact about the town my heart never really left:

“Well now, I'd just like to set the record straight here, Bruce Hamrick, because you're messing with a piece of my family history. The Teddy Bear Restaurant in Wapakoneta was started by my dad and his brothers shortly after the Second World War: namely, Bob, Norm, Chuck and Don Newland. Not long after the place opened, Don decided he had a calling and was off to seminary school to become a Methodist minister. (He's the only brother still living).

My dad, Norm, was better known as Whitie and his older brother, Bob, as Red. Charles was, of course, called Chuck. The three of them ran the place together until the early '60s when Bob went to work as a teller (he later became Vice President) at the People's National Bank (later Fifth-Third), and Chuck went to work for Western and Southern Life Insurance (where my grandfather, Murel Newland, worked for 20 years). My dad and mom (Reba Mae) owned and ran the Teddy Bear until it closed in 1969.

In that time, the Teddy Bear went from being a soda fountain and hamburger shop (for great burgers the TB's only competiion was Stub Wilson's Kewpee in Lima, Ohio – the one on Elizabeth St., the orginal and one and only as far as I'm concerned) to being a self-service breakfast and luncheon eatery, to being a full-fledged, table service family restaurant.

Others of us in the family worked there too: Mom's sister Marilyn, my sister Darla, and I myself off and on at different times. There were a lot of pretty original things on the menu. For instance, the ol' man and I both had a sweet tooth and used to compete making each other outlandish ice cream desserts and some of them ended up staying on the menu: my Orange Freeze, for instance which was a creamy rainbow-bar type of a shake that combined orange sherbet, vanilla ice-cream, vanilla syrup, orange syrup, cream and carbonated water in a nice icy, whipped drink; or my dad's very own TB Pink & Black Cow, a to-die-for sundae that was made with rich Swift chocolate ice cream and peppermint candy cane ice cream (in a soup bowl, not a sundae dish) topped with both marshmallow and hot fudge "dope" (as we called it back then).

Then there were our grilled pork tenderloins (as well as fried) and the Tummy-Buster steak sandwich and the Big Bear Burger and our own style of potato salad and chili soup and homemade vegetable soup and ham and bean soup and hand-cut fries and our own breaded onion rings, and Dad got his meat from Kay's meat market and butchered and ground it himself and the cole slaw was Mom's recipe, and so on...

But Bruce, if you ever ate deep fried pickles at the Teddy Bear you did it in a dream, because we never, ever served them, nor did we invent them.

Now, Bruce, you may be thinking about Ralph Meinerding, whose bar was right across the back alley from the TB. Ralph was the king of fry and I have to admit his deep fried pork tenderloins beat the hell out of ours. Ralph fried mushrooms and fried onions and fried beefsteak potatoes and just about anything else you could fry. Hell, if a fight broke out and the bouncer, Sam Fullencamp, knocked somebody's ear off the side of their head, you had to get it off the counter quick before Ralph breaded it and tossed it into the fryer. But I can't say for certain he ever had fried pickles on the menu. I'm just guessing.

As for the demise of the Teddy Bear, that came with the advent of Interstate-75 which had all the North-South state traffic that had once moved through town on the Dixie Highway now bypassing it. And then came the inevitable proliferation of fast-food places out on hamburger row by the Wapakoneta exit, a mile from downtown, and that was that. However, Dad and Mom DID NOT move to Colorado. In fact, the ol' man died in his own bed on Kelley Drive in Oakwood Hills (Wapakoneta) just six years ago and Mom followed him six months later. Dad sold the Teddy Bear to a musicians' agent called Mitch Pemberton who put in the first pizza place to replace the TB (I think it was called the Pizza Chef, but don't hold me to it because I was in the Army at the time and Mitch didn't last long). My brother, Dennis, worked as Mitch's manager and master pizza-chef (that boy could make a really mean pie, let me tell you).

Mitch later sold out to a former pro soccer player from the UK called Victor Peachy, who opened Le Grande Pizza. (His mom had the other Le Grande, up the road a piece in Saint Marys). Vic was a rough and tumble sort who liked my ol' man from the first moment Dad visited him and Dad by then was a route saleman for Fisher Cheese - another Wapakoneta institution of those days - and ended up selling Vic all of the mozzarella and romano cheese he used for over a decade until the ol' man retired and traded sliding around on Ohio's back roads in a truck loaded with 16 tons of cheese all winter for hanging out in his Florida condo every year from December to April.

Those are the facts, Bruce, and another piece of the rich tapestry of Wapakoneta Americana.”

14 comments:

Kansas_Kate said...

Great! Now I'm craving chocolate and peppermint ice cream! Thanks a lot!

Lorena said...

Wonderful piece, Dan! Can I order one of those burgers, please?

Best from Baires, Lorena

Dan Newland said...

I knew ya would, Kate! Me too

Dan Newland said...

Thanks Lore!
Don't I WISH you could order one, and me too! Make mine with ketchup, mustard, pickle and onion.

Sylvia said...

Cool, Dan! I'm glad you straightened out Bruce's BS-ing. Did he ever answer you? Coz it would be interesting to follow any further exchanges between you... :-)
"Hell, if a fight broke out and the bouncer, Sam Fullencamp, knocked somebody's ear off the side of their head, you had to get it off the counter quick before Ralph breaded it an tossed it into the fryer. But I can't say for certain he ever had fried pickles on the menu. I'm just guessing."
I had a great laugh at this bit!
And I'd go for the choc&mint too...Syl***

Dan Newland said...

Thanks Syl. I'm glad you read it and had a chuckle. And no, Bruce never commented on it, but I did get to chat a bit with other folks from my hometown, which is one of those cool things that only happens in real time when you write on the Internet. :-))

Sylvia said...

Hi again, Dan! I'm glad you finally got to see my comment!! I've already been reading your last post on Malvinas and The Herald, haven't had time to remark on anything yet. But if you scroll down somewhere or other (in this blog or your other one), you'll see at least a couple of commentaries I posted er...can't remember how long ago! I highly enjoy reading your blogs. And I'm really glad you got to chat with other folks in Wapakoneta...I don't visualize myself chatting with people in Cipolletti, but who knows?

JoAnne said...

WOW, does that ever bring back a flood of OLD memories of the Teddy Bear. Just thinking about all the great times with good friends eating burgers and fries, ice cream and pie makes me realize how blessed we were to have such a great place to hang out. Dan, I love reading your articles about our hometown. Now I'm hungry for a TB burger!!!

Jeremiah Newland said...

I can't believe I just came across this article. Bob Newland and his wife Betty were my beloved granparents. My name is Jeremiah son of Mark, Bob & Beety's youngest I actually have the lid to an old time pickle jar that was in the Teddy Bear restaurant and wanted to get there names and the the business years engraved in the lid as a keepsake and I stumbled across this article I love my family and miss my grandparents dearly and it brought tears to my eyes to see this article and know that their names and memory with their restaurant live on still. Thank You!

Dan Newland said...

The marvels of the Internet, Jeremiah, that we should met up here. I remember you from when you were a little boy. The way things worked out, I've seldom gotten to see my cousins or their children in all these years. Unfortunately, we lately usually only meet up at funerals. The last time I saw your Dad was at the funeral of my younger brother, Dennis (Jim)in 2005, and two years earlier at my mother's fueneral (your Great Aunt Reba Mae).
However, like you, I miss all these people who played such a huge role in my formative years. Your dad's older brother Greg and I were not only cousins but inspearable friends throughout our school years, and Mark and Jim were just as inseparable (even had an apartment together for a while in their bachelor years). Aunt Betty was kind of a second mother to me and Uncle Bob was one of my role models. I considered him a living legend and a hero. I have some GREAT stories about him. Maybe I'll get around to telling them here someday.
Thanks for reading me and give your dad a hug for me.

Anonymous said...

I worked at the pizza chef in high school...Mitch ...to my knowledge...started the fried pickles...that was77-78-79....half the cross country team worked there. He had fish n chips...big during lent...and brosted chicken dinners.
We were back about
3 years ago and the place still makes them...

Dan Newland said...

Thanks, Anon! Don't know which generation you're from, but my brother, Dennis Newland (if he were still alive he would be 57), was one of Mitch's first employees there, and he was also track and field (cross-country).

Anonymous said...

I probably ate Pizza Chef more than any other person alive. I got put to work in that kitchen at the age of 12.. Best part about it is I have the recipe for Mitch's famous fried pickles...

Dan Newland said...

Anon, thanks also to the wonders of the Internet, since this article I've been in touch several times with Mitch. He wrote to correct me, by the way, but after that, we just got to talking about old times and the bands we'd both known. He wanted to set the record straight, because I said in the blog entry that "he didn't last long" in the old Teddy Bear location. Turns out he was there for eleven years! I mean, time's relative and all, but anbything over a decade is "quite a spell". It's that when you leave "home" and it stays frozen in your memory, time really flies. To me, it seemed liked the blink of an eye from the TB's closing, to Mitch's opening, to Vic Peachy coming in for the long haul.
Anyway, just so you know, Mitch is going strong, is still the good guy he always was and just recently became a grand-daddy.
Thanks for reading me, Anon. I'll be coming back very soon with more stories.