Fried bologna reigns supreme in Waldo
Story by Joshua Keeran
While people continue to seek the answer to the age-old question “Where’s Waldo?,” fried bologna connoisseurs have known for decades the true location of Waldo — just over the Delaware County line in Marion County or roughly directly between the cities of Delaware and Marion.
While the Waldo in this instance refers to the tiny village of Waldo, Ohio, and not the fictional character sporting black reading glasses and donning a red and white shirt and beanie, it does have its own iconic staple in the form of G&R Tavern’s “famous bologna sandwich.”
The tavern’s renowned sandwich has put the village of just under 340 residents on the map, making it a destination stop instead of just a small municipality located off the beaten path.
“We used to have a book that we asked people visiting from outside of Ohio to sign, and by the third month, it was full,” said longtime co-owner and Waldo resident Bernie Lewis. “Along with people visiting from all across the country, we’ve even had people from other countries including Paris, France.”
In fact, the sandwich — consisting of a 3/4-inch slice of fried German bologna topped with Monterey Jack cheese, sweet pickles and onions — has drawn national media coverage for decades from the likes of the Chicago Tribune, CBS News, Food Network, etc., and it has led to countless celebrities (Al Roker, Buck Rogers, etc.), sports figures (Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini) and former Ohio State University coaches (Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel, etc.) making the pilgrimage to Waldo.
So what’s the secret behind the bologna, which tavern customers combine to consume 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of per week on average?
After being bombarded with the question for decades, Lewis decided enough was enough and let everyone in on the secret ingredients in an October 2016 Facebook post. The ingredients include pork, beef, water, salt, potassium lactate, non-fat dry milk, corn syrup solids, cereal (ground corn, wheat rye, oats, and rice), mustard, spices, sugar, sodium diacetate, onion powder, garlic powder, sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrate.
Some secrets, however, are better left untold, so Lewis keeps quiet when it comes to revealing how much of which ingredient is included in the bologna.
“By law, you have to show people the ingredients,” he said. “While you have to tell them what is in it, you don’t have to tell people how you mix it.”
While Lewis remains mum on some key details involving the bologna, he doesn’t hesitate to give his opinion on what makes the sandwich a crowd favorite.
“What makes it is the Sechler’s pickles,” he said. “People swear by those damn sweet pickles.”
Along with its famous fried bologna sandwich, G&R Tavern’s menu features other sandwiches like fish and pork tenderloin, along with salads, pizzas, sides and desserts.
One dessert bound to catch the attention of patrons new to the restaurant is the tavern’s oversized cream pies, which have been known to give the fried bologna sandwich a run for its money.
“People have been talking more about the cream pies than the bologna,” Lewis said. “We prepare 20 to 25 pies each morning.”
G&R Tavern’s long-standing tradition as a Waldo staple dates back to 1962 when George Yake and Roy Klingel opened the establishment in a building down the street from the current location at 103 N. Marion St.
Lewis said unbeknownst to most, G&R started out as a wing place, and the establishment across the street at the time was known for its bologna.
While the exact date G&R Tavern made the fried bologna sandwich its staple is unclear due to the loss of historical records in a flood, Lewis said, but the decision was made by Yake, who took more interest in the day-to-day operations than Klingel did.
“George decided he would come up with his own little bologna recipe,” Lewis said. “He got with a meat packing place in Columbus, and the rest is history.”
As for how Lewis became involved with the tavern, he recalled how one day out of the blue Yake, who was a good friend of his, approached him with a proposition he couldn’t pass up.
“George called and said he had to sell it, and I told him anyone would be lucky to own it,” Lewis said.
After consulting with his wife, Joy, the couple partnered with John and Mary Blevins to purchase G&R Tavern on Nov. 1, 1985. In August 2017, after 32-plus years, Mary Blevins decided to retire and left the ownership group, leaving everything to the Lewises. (John Blevins died in 1998).
Since taking over ownership in the mid-1980s, Lewis said while he hasn’t tweaked the bologna recipe — there’s “no need to fix what ain’t broken” — he did change the atmosphere.
“(In 1985) G&R was a local bar and grill with great food, but it wasn’t my idea of an establishment I wanted to run for a length of time,” Lewis said. “I wanted a family restaurant where women and kids could come. I had a five-year plan to turn it into a family environment. It didn’t take five years.”
The key to the quick transformation, he added, was cleaning up the language and pointing unruly customers to the door.
“I didn’t allow four-letter words, and eventually, people found other bars,” Lewis said. “I’m a firm believer that one bad customer will cost you 10 good ones.”
Along with the transformation to more of a family friendly establishment, Lewis decided to employ those closest to him, making it a family-run business.
Lewis said both of his daughters and their husbands have worked at G&R, as have many of his grandchildren who have come and gone from the payroll over the years. Currently, one daughter serves as the kitchen manager, while a son-in-law handles the night shift managerial duties.
G&R Tavern, Waldo
8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays
Visit the G&R Tavern Facebook page or www.gandrtavern.com.