As Plank’s on Parsons celebrates its 80th anniversary, third-generation owner John Plank wonders where the time went.
“I remember our 50th like it was two years ago,” said Plank, 55, who owns the restaurant with his brother, Tom. “We take it one day at a time.”
A testament to family, consistency and neighborhood camaraderie, Plank’s on Parsons has entertained guests since 1939. Its official opening date was Nov. 21, but John Plank said he doesn’t know if – or when – he’ll roll out any specials or celebrations this year.
“Someone was kidding and said you should have 1939 beer prices for a day,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m not even sure that’s legal.’ ”
Plank’s was preceded by Manns Café, 743 Parsons Ave. in the “South End,” as the neighborhood was called.
Frank and Ed Mann, who owned the café, were brothers-in-law of Walter Plank Sr., who married Loretta Mann.
“It was the Depression, and he didn’t have much work,” said his daughter, Nancy Plank Kelley, author of “The Corner,” a history of the restaurant at the southwest corner of Parsons and Sycamore Street.
At the urging of his wife, Walter Plank Sr. convinced the Manns to sell him the restaurant, which he operated until 1960.
He sold the business to his son, Walter Plank Jr., whose brother, Willie Plank, later joined him in the business.
Walter Plank Jr. had a larger-than-life personality, his son said, and made friends with everybody who came in. He hated raising prices, yet had to, and he made sure he was out of town when it happened, John Plank said.
“Our dad created a spirit in here, and we tried to keep that going,” said Plank, who lives in Bexley. “But he was the master.”
Walter Plank Jr. handed off the business to his two sons in 1993. John Plank graduated from Ohio State University and spent a year as an accountant before he realized “this ain’t for me.” He then joined the family business permanently.
“I started busing tables in grade school,” John Plank said.
“And your dad brought you guys in to clean up the gum underneath the tables on Sundays,” Kelley said. “I remember that.”
Plank’s, long known as Plank’s Café & Pizzeria, is an old-school haunt, dimly lit, with dark wooden floors and walls, exposed brick, fixed, bolted-down barstools and college pennants hanging from the walls, along with assorted bric-a-brac, nostalgic photos and plenty of Ohio State paraphernalia.
It’s a large, 2-story space, seating 300 total. An addition in 1989 put 100 more seats on the main floor of the restaurant, which was built in 1895, John Plank said.
Inside, the aroma of popcorn wafts through the air, and a basket of puffed kernels is free to all customers. The menu offers classic fare – subs, soups and salads and an array of appetizers – in addition to nightly specials. Plank’s also is open for breakfast and has become a popular spot for third-shift workers, John Plank said. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its pizza, namely the sweet crust.
Two other Plank’s restaurants, one at 888 S. High St. in the Brewery District and another at 4022 Broadway in Grove City, are owned by extended-family members.
The Plank’s on Parsons cartoon character – a man with a wide grin, shaggy hair, rumpled clothes and carrying an oversized beer – is based on Tom Plank, 70, who took his father’s spot as the gregarious host. He lives just down the street in Schumacher Place, what the neighborhood now is called.
John Plank credits the staff for much of the restaurant’s longevity.
Tom Burton, 84, has been working behind the bar for 18 years, picking up the job after he retired from A’Jack Flooring.
“I ate lunch here for 40 years,” he said.
Suzie Foster, 69, is one of three employees – the others are Kelly Black and Shirley Wisdom – who have been working at Plank’s for 30 years or more.
“I loved Walt Plank,” said Foster, a grill cook since 1989. “He was very, very fair, appreciated people he could count on.”