Finding Mawby's

The school year has begun, but the Cedar Lee area is devoid of high school students. They’re in their temporary quarters at the former Wiley Middle School, due to the massive renovation of the original Heights High building. From the 1920s till last year, this area has always been packed with high school kids before and after school. My parents went to Heights, as did my brothers and I, and then my kids. So my family has frequented the Cedar Lee district since the mid-1930s.

The other big difference is the dining scene at this intersection. Over there, where Royal Castle used to be is a non-place called Fresh & Meaty Burgers. The sign went up months ago, but nothing seems to have happened, and it looks like that restaurant is not going to materialize there.

I used to hang out there with friends and we would each order six of Royal Castle’s tiny hamburgers and a birch beer in, as they said, a frosty mug. There were no tables and chairs in that small space, just a counter with stools.

One time, in the summer of 1967, I was in there late at night when a customer walked out without paying. The one employee working at the time vaulted over the counter, slipped as he hit the other side with both hands scraping the floor, ran outside, beat up the customer, got his money, came back in, vaulted back over the counter, ran his hands through his greasy hair, stuck his hand directly into the pickle jar and completed the order he had started. It was not my order, so I didn’t care. Anyway, in 1967, even if it had been my order, I would have just removed the pickles and eaten the burgers.

On this corner, the southeast one, is the Cedar Lee Theatre, which has expanded all the way to Cedar Road. That corner space used to house Clark’s Restaurant when I was a child, and then Inman’s when I went to Heights.

Clark’s was a local chain of family restaurants, famous, among kids, for Apple Pie Johnny’s Toy Chest, from which kids could pick a cheap, little trinket if they joined the “Clean Plate Club.” And all that was required for membership to that organization was finishing your whole meal—never a problem for me, then or now.

When that space became Inman’s, it lost most of its family feel, which was perfect for us teenagers. Every weekday afternoon, the large place would completely fill up with seemingly hundreds of high school kids, and cigarette smoke, and noise.

Inman’s stipulated an after-school 50-cent minimum. A giant plate of French fries (with gravy) cost 35 cents; a cup of coffee cost 15. Every kid in the place would order French fries and coffee. I used to sit there and imagine gigantic dump trucks pulling up to the back of the place and dumping load after load of potatoes into the former coal bins, and tanker trucks full of hot coffee attaching their huge hoses to vast vats in the kitchen.

A few years later that site became earth by april, a very good and successful vegetarian restaurant. I used to play my songs there throughout the ’70s, whenever I was between rock bands, and meals.

But, arguably, the most important restaurant that’s missing from that neighborhood today is Mawby’s. It sat, from the 1930s to the early ’70s, in the area of the mini-park between the rebuilt structure where, first, a McDonald’s operated and then Lemon Grass took over and where, now, Boss Dog Brewing is planning to open; and, on the other side, where the Heights Arts gallery is located.

I know Mawby’s was an important institution because, besides having been a devotee myself, I’ve found that any discussions of restaurants on Facebook sites dealing with growing up in Cleveland Heights or attending Heights High always lead to long threads of many memories of that place (and, naturally, eventually, arguments about which restaurant was where and when), as do real-life discussions of area eateries.

Mawby’s, another place with counter-only seating, served only hamburgers (plus fries, onion rings and milkshakes). What everyone remembers is those great burgers, cooked in front of you on a grill with seasoned onions.

The Mawby family opened three or four more locations around the East Side. Then one of the brothers, George “Dink” Mawby, opened his own place, Dink’s, first on Mayfield near Warrensville, in 1950; it then moved to Chagrin Falls in 1960. Dink’s in Chagrin Falls became an institution itself until it closed a few years ago. But now in the old Dink’s space is the North Main Diner.

Jack Krissinger opened this place last year with the idea of restoring the old Dink’s atmosphere, complete with a rebuilt 1948 Bastian and Blessing soda fountain, and family-friendly menu and prices. Why am I talking about a place in Chagrin Falls and not in Cleveland Heights?  Because I ate there recently and found out about this: One of the cooks at North Main Diner worked at Dink’s for nearly 30 years. And while she was there, she learned how to make Mawby’s hamburgers. And there it is, right on the menu, the “Mawby.” I tried it.

I stopped experiencing “acid flashbacks” in about 1970. But apparently food flashbacks exist. Because I had one.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 9, Issue 9, Posted 2:46 PM, 09.01.2016