The outside looks pretty much like any fast food place from the 60's, and less like the diners that made the name Kewpee famous starting in the 1920's. The chain was named after the Kewpee Dolls that were very popular in the 1920's, when they were brainstorming for a name.
At one time there were over 200 different locations in the chain, which was founded in 1923. This makes them the 2nd oldest burger chain in America. (only White Castle is older, beating them by 2 years) They still wear those hats that food prep guys wore back in the 20's, and you can see the food being fixed out in the open, not hidden in the back. They use only locally produced beef. A lady at the counter told me that the original Lima location was built in 1928.
The burger looks a bit messy, doesn't it? However, that is the way I like it, with plenty of catsup and onion. The iconic Kewpee Doll is featured on the wrapper. Taste was good, and I could tell that the burger was not doctored up with fillers like a lot of chains do. It tasted much like a homemade burger made with 100% ground beef. I'll admit that I have some fond memories of this place - I grew up about 25 miles away, and we stopped to eat here about once a year when I was a kid.
This is a really nice price for a double cheeseburger, especially considering that the beef for the burgers is locally produced. It's also one of the few places where I've seen green olives as a burger topping. For those who can't stomach the idea of killing a cow, they also have a vegetable sandwich. Notice the Frosted Malts over on the left side? Dave Thomas, founder of the Wendy's burger chain, grew up eating Kewpee Hamburgers in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He probably also ate Kewpee's Frosted malts, and many say that he based Wendy's popular "frosty" on the Kewpee original above.
Have you ever seen buttermilk listed on a fast food menu? You can get it here, and I happen to love buttermilk. They also have grapefruit juice, and you can get a quart sized (quarter gallon) cup of pop for a buck. They are also known for their slices of pie.
Although there were more than 200 locations just before World War II, many of these went out of business during beef rationing during the war, and never reopened. Others changed names and left the chain after the death of the original founder, when there was a long struggle over the future of the company. Still others were sold off to other businessmen over the years. Today only 5 locations remain. 3 are in Lima, with another in Racine, Wisconsin and 1 or 2 in Lansing, Michigan.
I believe that if you're driving past Lima, it is well worth taking a half hour to try out some Kewpee burgers. What surprised me the most is that they don't have a history plaque up on the wall, or anything like that. Few burger joints, or frankly, restaurants of any kind stay open for close to 90 years. I think they should spend a bit and put up a historical display on one of the walls.
Some further reading, for those who are interested:
Location: 1350 Bellefontaine Avenue, Lima, OH 45804
Telephone: (419) 229-1385
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