Little did a South Side shoemaker suspect when he bought a small restaurant from his brothers-in-law that the place would continue to be successful almost 75 years – and three generations – later.
The year was 1939. Walter Plank, a regular customer at Manns Café, didn’t hesitate to make an offer when the little place went up for sale. In buying it, Plank continued the tradition of serving beer and meals at 743 Parsons Avenue that had begun with the opening of the first saloon there, in 1886. The Manns brothers bought the place in 1919, and sold it to Walter 20 years later. Plank’s Café was born.
Plank’s Café began as a family-run business. Walter Junior was already managing much of the day-to-day operations when Walter Senior died in 1961. Walter Junior had returned from World War II to help his father; and soon the whole family was involved, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week.
The café grew and expanded under Walter Junior. He added a steam table, to provide a variety of hot meals to his many regular business customers. He also doubled the size of the restaurant with a south-side addition. Perhaps most important to Plank’s continuing success was the addition of a pizza oven, in 1985, and the family’s award-winning, sweet-dough pizza crust.
One of Walter Junior’s brothers, Willie, worked here until 1961, when he decided to start his own place – Plank’s Bier Garten, at South High and Whittier. (Today, there is a second Plank’s Bier Garten, in Grove City.)
Today, Plank’s Café is in the capable hands of Walter Junior’s two sons – Tom and John, and his daughter, Mary. It’s clear that they share the same love for the place that their grandfather had, 74 years ago. In fact, Plank’s is one of the friendliest cafes that you’re likely to find. All three of the current owners met their spouses here. The staff is all from the South End. Most were customers; and many of them have worked here for 20 years or longer.
Walter Junior, Tom and John – all avid sports fans – started Plank’s tradition of displaying team memorabilia. Customers love the sports-themed tables and the display of their favorite sports teams’ pennants on the walls. Even the Columbus College of Art and Design is represented. Feeling left out by the fact that CCAD doesn’t have a sports team, students decided to make their own pennant. It hangs proudly today, alongside banners from popular teams in the Big Ten and across the country.
Many would say Plank’s is the best place in town to watch an OSU football game – outside of Ohio Stadium. Fans crowd the place on Saturday afternoons in the fall. Even the OSU marching band gets into the act, sending a contingent of drummers and horn players here, to entertain customers during Beat Michigan week, just as they’ve done for the past 35 years.
The Planks continue to sponsor intramural sports teams. They are also big boosters of re-development along Parsons Avenue. And they enjoy a special relationship with the employees of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, offering them discounts, and taking their phone-in orders as early as 7 a.m., when the overnight shift ends. You want a large pepperoni at 7 in the morning? You’ve got it.
Before he bought the place, Walter Senior – then one of Manns Café’s regular customers – was fond of telling his wife that he was “going down to the corner.” A lot of his neighbors would join him at “the corner.” And that tradition continues today, where everyone is welcoming at one of the South Side’s most popular restaurants.