Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hey, is that an old Ritzy's? G.D. right it is!



Lately, I’ve been playing a game with myself where I use Google Earth and Street view to attempt to spot former G.D. Ritzy’s locations. By virtue of the fact that I’m familiar with the rough outline of the one-time operating area, typical surroundings, and architecture, I’m pretty good at it.



The Huntington, West Virginia G.D. Ritzy's, as seen when I visited late last year.


G.D. Ritzy’s (sometimes just branded as Ritzy’s) was a chain of fast food restaurants that sprang up in Columbus, Ohio in the early eighties, and expanded outward, peaking at around 100 locations. The menu included the typical burgers and fries, but also unique items like steamed vegetables and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the additions of fresh strawberry slices and crushed salted peanuts. They also offered several flavors of hard ice cream, usually made in-house. A strong emphasis was placed on food quality with a nostalgic bent. Buildings were built in a neo-art deco style, with rounded corners and flourishes on the outside, and lots of stainless railings and hexagonal tile on the inside. At the early locations, G.D. Ritzy himself, a mascot sporting a bowler hat, no doubt named for chain founder Graydon D. Webb, would be enjoying the sheer luxury of the the sign.


The sign outside the still-operating Huntington, West Virginia Ritzy's.

Most G.D. Ritzy’s locations closed in the early nineties, ultimately leaving just six operating locations left, spread across three states. The collapse of Ritzy’s left a lot of relatively new, vacant buildings begging to be repurposed. They’re pretty easy to spot on Google Maps if you know what to look for.

Aerial view of a former Ritzy's; note the rounded upper right corner of the building.


G.D. Ritzy's: We have the meats!

Find a shopping center in a medium to large city in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, or West Virginia. Older shopping centers closer to malls or city centers often yield the best results. Look for a smallish, narrow, rectangular building, smaller than a Waffle House, but bigger than a Checker’s/Rally’s. (Ritzy's buildings made efficient use of space, and fit a kitchen, seating area, and restrooms into a surprisingly compact building to keep real estate costs down for franchisees.) If that building has one or two rounded corners, and evidence of a current or former drive thru, you’ve probably found an old G.D. Ritzy’s. You can confirm your find by zooming to street view in and looking for the round awnings that started life green, but may be any number of colors by now, the distinctive rounded buttress on the front of the building, a line of glass blocks at the base of the windows, or the exterior lamps hanging in gooseneck brackets. If your building has at least half of these attributes, it’s probably an old Ritzy’s.


The real fun starts when there’s an atypical building that may have been a G.D. Ritzy’s. Such a find sparks speculation and debate over why this one location in particular was different. This extra large building with typical Ritzy's flourishes is one such example. I suspect this location may have had a large ice cream production and/or storage facility on site to service multiple nearby Ritzy's locations.



So much room for activities!


The best part is you can play this game with virtually any commonly reproduced distinctive building that is likely to have changed in purpose. Converted Hot 'n Nows, A-Frame IHOPs, Howard Johnson's, or Stuckey's are all fun to try and spot on Google Earth. Give it a try today!


You can't fool me with that fancy new facade, Papa John! You're making pizza in a Ritzy's!


You see a lot of Hot Head Burritos locations in Ohio. You used to see a lot of G.D. Ritzy's in Ohio. This is the point on the graph where their respective lines intersect.


The '90s comedian wants to say since there's a Starbucks on every corner, there might as well be one in an old Ritzy's.


The self-serve frozen yogurt trend claims a G.D. Ritzy's.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting to note, Starbucks have come and gone in many smaller venues and towns like a fall carnival blowing though. The appear almost overnight and in a fortnight, the leave a unique but all too often small building which seems designed as a legacy for a cheap third teer mobile phone provider.

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    1. I can't recall ever seeing a Starbucks go out of business, but I'm sure it happens. Mobile phone store seems like a reasonable use for a defunct Starbucks I know of one other Starbucks operating out of an old G.D. Ritzy's. The conversion makes sense, as the footprint is almost identical to a purpose-built freestanding Starbucks and there's already a drive thru.

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  2. There are 3 of these in Evansville, IN. There used to be some in Indianapolis, but not sure if they are still there.

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    1. Yep! Read onward. A month or two after I wrote this, I went on a trip to every operating Ritzy’s, including the ones in Evansville.

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