In The Beginning
It’s difficult to imagine a time before these CoMo classics.
The Stretch. Marty’s Wings. The Masterpiece. Columbia wouldn’t be Columbia without these and other signature menu items and the local institutions that have served them to generations of Tigers. It’s hard to fathom a time before the iconic buildings, bars and booths, so here are the origin stories of seven CoMo cornerstones.
According to history buff and former owner Jerry Dethrow, BA ’72, it’s unclear when the institution first began serving cheeseburgers on wax paper, but the pool hall opened in 1884 at 706 E. Broadway. The structure was replaced by the Hetzler Building in 1898, at which point owner Paul Venable moved his business to 918 E. Broadway (now Blanc Studio).
Nicknamed “Booch” by poet Eugene Field, A&S 1872, who thought the future restaurateur’s given moniker was no name for a little boy, Venable later moved to 922 E. Broadway (now Poppy), then 1001 E. Broadway (now a parking lot on the northeast corner of 10th and Broadway) and then to the second floor of the Virginia Building above what is now Tiger Spirit.
The “modern” iteration opened in 1926 where it once contained an additional pool table and a shorter bar.
The J-School’s famed neighbor celebrated its 50th anniversary Jan. 5, 2013, with collectable gold-rimmed pint glasses and birthday cake for customers. Founded by George Petrakis, BA ’56; Jim Martin; Marty Sigholtz and Dick Walls, the group purchased the former Ever Eat Café and dubbed it The Old Heidelberg to put patrons in mind of food, spirits and one of the world’s oldest universities in Germany.
The Walls family has owned and operated the restaurant since 1965. Walls’ sons Rusty, BS BA ’90, and Richard, BS Ag, BS BA ’87, now run the happy-hour haven.
The ’Berg burned in 2003, but it was rebuilt in the tradition that generations of patrons have come to know and appreciate.
Bill Sheals, BA ’78, and Gary Moore, BS HE ’79, fancied themselves “downtown guys” when they set out to open a jazz joint in the mid-’80s. At the time, Mick Jabbour, BA ’73 — another former Booche’s co-owner — owned Murry’s. Formerly named Andy’s Corner after a defunct south-side roadhouse (a stained-glass sign for the establishment still hangs on the south wall), Jabbour, now deceased, had renamed it Murry’s after a Booche’s houseplant in 1984. It wasn’t Sheals and Moore’s top choice in terms of location, but it turned out to be a stroke of good fortune. They expanded the restaurant to include the entrance seating area in 2000.
“We always thought there was a place for jazz in Columbia, and we were too old for rock ’n’ roll,” Sheals says. “When we moved in, Providence was just two lanes. We had no idea the demographic was going to become what it did.”
It might not be as old as other CoMo cornerstones, but the world-renowned pizza parlor is high in the running for most popular.
Shakespeare’s was established in 1973 by the Star Corp., a company out of New Orleans that once sought to set up franchises in every Big Eight Conference city. Jay Lewis purchased three Shakespeare’s Pizza restaurants in 1975, including Kansas locations in Manhattan and Lawrence. Strictly a delivery and carry-out business, the Columbia location was a success — the two in the Sunflower State, not so much. It wasn’t long before Lewis shut down the others and focused on making the local legend a sit-down spot. He rented the neighboring buildings — the bar/emporium Campus Edge, and a laundromat — and expanded Shakespeare’s to become what we now know and love.
“There’s never been a blueprint for this place,” Lewis says. “The exposed brick and the [retro] metal signs are just a function of not having any money to decorate back then.”
A Columbia favorite since 1989, the Diner is known for its after-bar hours, intimate atmosphere and The Stretch — hash browns topped with scrambled eggs, chili, cheddar cheese, green peppers and onions.
The building, a 1960s-model Double Deluxe diner made by Valentine Manufacturing Co. of Wichita, Kan., replaced a smaller prefabricated diner, which started out as the Minute Inn in 1949. The current facility originally sat on the northwest corner of Providence Road and Broadway until it moved south across the street and finally to its current location in August 2001.
Through the years, famous guests have included Bill Haley and His Comets, who were in town for a bank promotion, and game-show host Alex Trebek, who was visiting Columbia to recruit contestants for Jeopardy!
Kirk Wacker was going to be a marine biologist after he graduated from the University of Miami in 1972. He ended up selling submarine sandwiches.
Wacker and former business partner David Eagle discovered a bread recipe from an old baker in their Ashland, Ohio, hometown.
“He pulled it out of his safe and said, ‘Don’t tell anyone where this came from, but this is worth millions of dollars,’ ” Wacker says. “Boy, was he right. The secret is it’s bread that is made to be baked again.”
But the figurative dough took a while to rise. After wandering in California, Wacker got a job distributing magazine subscription flyers in CoMo. Eagle eventually moved to Columbia, too, and the pair opened the first Sub Shop in 1975 at 1020 E. Walnut St. (now The Bridge). They moved to the Eighth Street location in 1993, and Wacker bought out Eagle in 2005.
“When we first opened, a whole sub cost $1.50,” Wacker says. “That shows you how much things have changed.” Today, a whole sub costs $9.99.
After graduating from Mizzou, Dennis Harper, BS Ed ’71, opened what would become Columbia’s most popular postgame hangout at 122 S. Seventh St. The bar and restaurant was immediately successful, so Harper borrowed $10,000 from his father and purchased the icon’s current home in 1972. He repaid Dad one year later.
For a generation, Harpo’s was known as the destination for rowdy Mizzou football fans after tearing down a Faurot Field goalpost following a big Tigers victory. Harper remembers the earliest such artifact being wooden.
“Then I started handing out hacksaws,” Harper says. “They would parade downtown and say, ‘Let’s go to Harpo’s!’ They’d want to bring the goalposts inside, which would be a disaster. You could give them 10 hacksaws, and they’d just hack away out in the street.”
Harper sold the business in 2010 to Kevin Fitzpatrick, BS BA ’79, and Chuck Naylor, BS BA ’82, who installed a plaque dedicating the bar’s 40th anniversary in 2011.