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Lucas Bros., the city’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation, will dish up the last of its aromatic and tasty hamburgers over the Aug. 4 and 5 weekend.
Owner Cheri Perkins, who has been a fixture at the East Columbus diner for 48 years, expressed regret at the decision.
“Business has declined in recent years, and we just can’t continue,” she said. “Much of the equipment is old and in need of repair or replacement. Some of it dates back to when we were in the downtown before the shop was moved here (1842 Indiana Ave.) in 1983.”
The Lucas Bros. name has been on the cafe since at least 1937 when brothers Merlin “Pete” and Lloyd “Doc” Lucas leased property at 423 Fourth St.
That location had been the home of Hinkle’s Sandwich Shop.
In terms of actual age, Lucas Bros. is predated by Zaharakos, which opened in 1900 and was managed by members of the Zaharako family until 2006, when Lewis Zaharako closed the business because of failing health.
It was purchased by local businessman Tony Moravec, who launched a massive restoration and expansion program before reopening it in 2009.
But Lucas Bros. has operated continuously since it opened 74 years ago.
Lucas Bros. was one of many small cafes and restaurants in the downtown through the 1970s.
It acquired a reputation from the distinctive aroma of the onions that were piled on the hamburgers. It was a smell that co-owner Pete Lucas carried over into the Jonesville Tavern (also known as The Brick), which he purchased in 1954.
Although the Fourth Street location was owned by the Lucas Brothers, the person most associated with the restaurant was Pete’s wife, Jane, who managed the business for its first 26 years.
The Lucas family sold the business to Charles and Elma Craft in 1963, and the new owners kept the old name and the signature hamburgers.
It went through a number of owners over the next decade until it was purchased by Donna Cannon, who had worked in the restaurant for 21 years.
One of the employees who joined her in the business was her daughter, Cheri, who was also a veteran, having helped her mother out since she was 9, even working the grill at age 11.
Due to its success in the downtown area, Lucas Bros. had brief expansions into franchise operations — one at the old Northside Drug Store site in the 25th Street Shopping Center and a second restaurant in Brown County.
The steady exodus of retail stores from the downtown in the ‘60s and ‘70s took its toll on Lucas Bros. and all the other small cafes.
But the decisive factor in its move to the Indiana Avenue location was the decision by officials of First National Bank (now PNC Bank) to develop a parking area in the rear of its building.
That resulted in the termination of the lease with Donna Cannon and the demolition of the building.
When the restaurant was moved to East Columbus, much of its equipment — including the 17-seat counter and the grill — moved with it. Many of those items are in use today.
A LOOK BACK
1937: Merlin “Pete” and Lloyd “Doc” Lucas open Lucas Bros. Sandwich Shop in a building at 423 Fourth St..
1963: The Lucas family sells the sandwich shop to former employees, Charles and Elma Craft.
1968: The Crafts sell the business to Austin Sylvester.
1973: Benny Ping purchases the shop from Sylvester, selling it five weeks later to Donna Cannon.
1979: The Lucas Bros. operation expands to a second location in Brown County just off State Road 46 near Gnaw Bone, which eventually closed.
1983: Cannon opens another Lucas Bros. in the 25th Street Shopping Center, which eventually closed.
1983: The lease on the downtown location expires. Cannon moves Lucas Bros. into a new location at Indiana Avenue and State Street.
2005: Donna Cannon dies. The operation is assumed by her daughter Cheri Perkins.
2012: Perkins announces her intention to close the shop in early August.
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