Each day, 84-year-old Ray Pauken makes a trip down East Broad Street from his apartment to Scotty's Cafe near Bexley. Since his wife died nine years ago, the retired teacher depends on the cozy restaurant for a good meal and some socializing.
"There's no other place like it," he said.
The review forum Yelp appears to agree, having named Scotty's Cafe to its seventh annual "Top 100 Places to Eat" in the U.S. earlier this month. It was the only restaurant from Columbus -- and one of only two in Ohio -- to make the list. Asiana Thai & Sushi in Cincinnati was also on the list.
Scotty's has received the honor for the last two years and landed on Buzzfeed's 2019 "best budget restaurant" list, also curated with Yelp.
"It was a wonderful surprise because we didn't expect it," said Scott Bast, 56, who opened the restaurant at 2980 E. Broad St. with his wife, Gina, 61, in 1989.
The list is determined using a combination of data -- ratings (Scotty's has five stars) and number of reviews (314) -- as well as input by Yelp's community managers. There is an emphasis on "hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path joints," according to Yelp's website.
"This year's 'Top 100 Places to Eat' list saw breakfast and brunch as a top restaurant category. ... Many of the businesses on this year's list are fast-casual spots," Yelp trend expert Tara Lewis said.
Scotty's Cafe is a family affair. One of the Basts' daughters, Audriana, 26, works as the chef. Their other daughter, Gabriella Sarson, was instrumental in developing the restaurant and is now a chef in Scotland. A wall is decorated with numerous family photos, including scenes not only from Scott and Gina's wedding but also from Gina's parents' wedding.
Its breakfast and lunch menu is partly inspired by Bast's Jewish heritage. Favorites include French toast made from challah, a signature Reuben sandwich and tomato basil soup. Desserts are free with the purchase of an entree.
The cafe represents only a portion of the Westerville family's business; they also run a deli and catering company out of the same building. Their clients include private jet passengers, wedding parties and even the Columbus Crew. They also provide free catering for various charities, including Race for the Cure and the Homeless Families Foundation, the Basts said.
Despite a long client list, many people aren't aware that Scotty's includes a cafe, Gina Bast said, and that's complicated by the fact that it only serves breakfast and lunch and is closed on weekends to run the catering business.
Still, the Yelp honor wasn't shocking to its regulars.
"For those of us on the East Side, (Scotty's) is not a secret," said Lou Chodosh, 67, of Bexley, who has been dining at Scotty's for at least a decade. "I've seen Scotty talk to people who've come in from 30 or 40 miles away. They heard about it, and they just fall in love with it. ... It's an institution."
On a recent Friday -- the cafe's busiest day of the week -- the lunchtime crowd included a mother and daughter stopping in before a day of shopping at Easton; a businessman who makes the drive from his office near state Route 161 each day; and a table of U.S. Army soldiers in uniform.
Tucked away in a strip mall, Scotty's Cafe has a simple interior with a black floor and enough tables to seat 80. Gina Bast greets regulars with a warm "lovebug," "honey" or "sweetheart," and Scott Bast frequently announces the arrival of people in front of the entire restaurant. And if someone has a birthday, Scott Bast will bring out a cupcake and lead everyone in song.
Waitress Yvette Hayman, a native of Germany who has worked at Scotty's for four years, said it's a fun place to work.
"We give out plenty of hugs and kisses," said the 49-year-old Westerville resident. "Everybody seems to be happy and excited, and we always have a lot of new people coming in."
Gina Bast said she has worked hard to create an inclusive environment at the cafe.
"It's a huge melting pot," she said. "And that's what I wanted it to be. ... It's a safe place, and I don't care who you are."
Realizing that some customers have only 20 minutes to eat, Gina Bast coaches her staff to make sure the food is hot, dirty dishes are cleared and desserts are on the table. All drinks -- including coffee -- are served in clear glasses so servers can easily see when they are no longer full.
Thanks to word-of-mouth and the Yelp honor, the customer base continues to grow.
"It's now getting to the point where everybody knows about Scotty's and you've got to get over here about breakfast time to get a seat at lunch," Pauken said.
Gina Bast said there often is a line of people that extends outside during business hours.
"I'm like, 'They're waiting for us,'" she said. "It makes me happy. ... This is like our Michelin star."