Thursday, April 5, 2018

Luxury Grills and Economy Cars Part 3

Something's Cooking....

All too often in my travels for this blog, I visit establishments that are approaching defunct status or resting on the laurels of previous greatness. Neither is the case with G.D. Ritzy's. The six locations I visited on my trip are still producing a high-quality product in a pleasant environment that is the right kind of dated. All six (G.D.) Ritzy's are not only surviving, but thriving. The three stops I made on the final full day of my trip represent the past, present, and future of the G.D. Ritzy's brand, which I'm very pleased to report has a bright future ahead of it.

In my childhood, Ritzy's had four locations in Lexington, Kentucky. When they all closed in the early '90s, the buildings were quickly repurposed. One became a Rally's, the first Rally's I had seen with an indoor seating area. They even kept the railings with the "R" logo glass in the interior. The building was eventually demolished and a Chick-Fil-A was constructed in its place. Another Lexington Ritzy's was either demolished or heavily renovated and is now home to a dry cleaner. One more, I don't think is still standing, but I haven't been able to find definitive information on its original location, but I'm fairly sure it was located somewhere on Richmond Road. If any past or present Lexingtonians reading this can help me narrow down its location, please let me know. Near as I can tell, there is only one Ritzy's building in Lexington still standing in more or less its original form. Located at the 3110 Pimlico Parkway, the building served as an Arby's for many years, the only fast food in the area. The Arby's recently closed, when a new McDonald's opened up next door. As of the writing of this article, the property is listed as being up for lease. Having stayed with family in Lexington the night previous, I stopped by for some pictures and light snooping on my way out of town. I wish I could have gone inside it for some interior pictures, but the original layout seemed pretty well intact, even the elevated dining area was still there. By this point, it had been over 36 hours since I had last eaten at Ritzy's, and I was ready for one last Ritzy's meal, so the Festiva and I moved on.

Aside from the big lighted sign on the wall, the exterior of the building is fairly unmodified. 
Note the bike rack. If I had a Ritzy's within biking distance when I was a kid, I would have been soooooo happy. 
The original drive thru sign frames are even still in place. 

Meal #1
Location: G.D. Ritzy's, 1335 Hal Greer Boulevard, Huntington, West Virginia
Order: Double Ritz with cheese, fries, cole slaw, Diet Mountain Dew

My next stop was the final operational Ritzy's that I had yet to visit on this trip, located just over the West Virginia state line in Huntington. I had messaged the Facebook pages of all the Ritzy's I was planning to visit, and Sid, the owner of the Huntington location told me to ask for him when I arrived at his place. I did just that, and after I received my order, he was nice enough to sit with me as I ate and tell me stories and tidbits about his experience as a Ritzy's franchisee. He's been there since nearly the very beginning, opening in 1983. He told me all his children had worked there at some point, and that his was the oldest operating Ritzy's location. The Huntington Ritzy's is the only location that still sports an early-style lighted sign with the G.D. Ritzy mascot on it, and Sid said that he elected to keep it when later style Ritzy's signage became available, preferring the style of the mascot sign. I think I do too. Sid seemed as excited to meet me as I was to meet him. He even promised to order and send me a free Ritzy's T-shirt in my size. He also took me on a tour of the back of the restaurant, showing me storage and food prep areas as well as a tiny manager's office. I had always been impressed with the design of G.D. Ritzy's buildings' and their efficient use of space, (I'm fond of Ford Festivas for similar reasons.) but seeing the back half of the building only served to increase my appreciation. A building smaller than a standard Waffle House was designed to function not only as a restaurant with a full kitchen, drive thru, seating, order counter, and a pair of public bathrooms, but also functioned as a small ice cream production facility, making 16 flavors of ice cream in-house. Despite all this, no portion of the building ever feels cramped. It feels bigger on the inside than the outside. It's the T.A.R.D.I.S. of burger joints. The architecture of a G.D. Ritzy's is an architectural marvel of both form and function, making every square inch of real estate count, while wearing classic Art-Deco lines.

Almost Heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountians, Huntington G.D. Ritzy's
The last of the mascot signs

Just look at that stylish chap! Don't you want to buy a chili dog and some ice cream from him?

In the past I've mentioned that G.D. Ritzy's founder Graydon Webb is working on opening a new Ritzy's in Columbus, Ohio. Fortunately, there was already a Facebook page already set up for the new Ritzy's set to open in the Clintonville neighborhood in north-central Columbus. While preparing for my trip, I inquired on the Facebook page if the new location would be open by the time I'd be passing through, the reply I got was probably not, but that reply came with an invite to stop by for a sneak preview. Columbus was therefore the final stop on my Ritzy's tour. I had no idea who I was talking to via Facebook, but they instructed me to come by the new location for a quick tour. I showed up at the agreed-upon time, where I was greeted by Graydon Webb's son, Corey. I discover he's the person I've been talking to, that he's read my previous blog entry about my Ritzy's trip, and that he'll be the one running the new restaurant.  Demolition on the former A&W Root Beer stand that's set to be the world's newest G.D. Ritzy's has recently been completed, and an almost entirely new building will occupy the site. Corey shows me around the site and points out where certain features of the new restaurant will be. We discuss the differences in operations and menu items at the various locations I've visited He also hands me a couple wooden nickels good for a free ice cream cone once they're open. After a few minutes, the door of a construction trailer at the edge of the parking lot opens, and Graydon Webb himself steps out to join us. He introduces himself. I'm starstruck and suddenly very aware that I'm dressed in my typical road trip attire of a ratty T-shirt and ripped jeans, not to mention the fact that I'm sporting a silly handlebar mustache that I carved out of a three-month beard just for laughs before starting my trip. I stammer out a greeting. He asks about my experience with his restaurants and my favorite ice cream flavor. I loosen up. Both of the Webbs are beyond gracious and accommodating as we chat for a few minutes more. We pose for a selfie, and I thank them for their time and leave with the promise to come back regularly once they're open. I can't think of a better way to conclude my trip than meeting the man who started it all, and I can scarcely stand the anticipation of the prospect of having a G.D. Ritzy's run by the founding family less than half a day's drive away.

Sorry Corey. I'm totally keeping these for my collection. I'm afraid you'll have to accept actual money in exchange for ice cream. 

If you find yourself anywhere near one of the three, soon to be four, cities where G.D. Ritzy's has a presence, do yourself a favor and stop in for a meal and/or some ice cream. I firmly believe that a better fast-casual restaurant concept does not exist, and who doesn't love a good comeback story? I have high hopes that the Webbs and their franchisees will have a bright future in the restaurant business. I know that I'll continue to be a loyal customer as long as I'm within some semblance of a reasonable distance. 

5 comments:

  1. Wow...Ritzy's royalty!👑🍔🍟🍦🍧👑

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  2. Great series! Now you have me wanting to hit up a Ritzy's!

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Ritzy’s is always a great experience, definitely worth a stop if you’re ever near one. Thanks for reading!

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  3. I'm really glad you did this series. My stepmother soon after becoming my stepmother took me and my brother to the Ritzy's between where Harrodsburg and Clays Mill rd combine in Lexington. It's not the laundry you mention, but further down one building where now stands a Mattress store. It was an ok location but kinda hard to get in and out of evidently. Being that close to Lafayette High School it was evidently a favorite of the High School kids who were older than me. I grew up with my Mom outside Nicholasville, but it was one of those places in Lexington you remember.

    It also makes me remember that there was another restaurant that was in Lexington called Chi-Chis and after looking that one up it only exists in other countries now. Owned by Tumbleweed though which I remember being a steakhouse in town as well but those still exist in Louisville and surrounding areas evidently.

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    1. You might be right about the mattress store location rather than the dry cleaners in front of it. I was pretty young when all the Lexington Ritzy’s closed, so I may be misremembering.

      I totally remember the Chi-Chi’s that was across Reynolds Road from Fayette mall. I had more than one childhood birthday party there. Speaking of Fayette Mall, I believe there was a Tumbleweed in the food court there for many years.

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