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April 11, 2024

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    As we enter into the poetics of April, also known as national poetry month, here are four voices from well to lesser known. The Tradition – Jericho Brown Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Brown visited the last American Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP 2024) conference, and I loved his speech and humor. Besides […]
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Spring Housing Guide

On the clock at the Corner

It is 7 a.m. and just about time for the “breakfast club” to walk through the front door of the Corner Grill and fill the stools that line the vintage counter of the restaurant.

The place is fairly quiet except for the sizzle of the grill, the quiet conversations between the customers and the crinkling of newspapers in their hands.

The “breakfast club” is the name given to the eight to 10 regulars who come in every morning before work.

“Scrambled, taters and wheat” is what long-time customer George orders every morning.

The rest of the men sit and sip on coffee while discussing everything from fishing to football to the weather.

This is a typical morning at the diner, according to Larry Cain, the owner of the Corner Grill.

The bell attached to the front door dings.

In walks the mayor, followed by retired University professor Briant Lee and his wife Nancy. All are regular customers, too.

“We know most of these people now. It’s like an extended family here,” said Nancy Lee, a customer for more than 10 years.

Many patrons like George have been coming to the diner religiously for more than 20 years. The Grill is home to many, including the “breakfast club.”

“I like the camaraderie. I just like to chit-chat with the guys. But it’s just the Corner Grill. It’s where everybody knows your name,” George said.

On slow days, Cain says he sits and chats with his customers.

“My customers are part of my family. They all get to know each other a little bit and people do come in here on a daily basis and get to know each other,” he said. “It’s the place where people grew up and I think they always want to come back and have some fun.”

This diner has remained mostly unchanged since its opening in 1951. It still features the same neon Maxwell House Coffee sign. Inside, there are the same booths, bar stools, counter and blue and white tiled floor.

Cain does not have plans to change much of the Grill as this nostalgic look seems to attract so many.

“This building is grandfathered, meaning I don’t have to change the equipment I have,” he said. “But if I were building a new establishment, I would have to change everything because it’s not up to code.

“I don’t want to do too much because everybody’s complaining about it already. They say, ‘Don’t change anything!'”

In addition to the atmosphere of the Grill, it is the home style cooking that keeps the regulars coming back for more.

“There are only two or three family-owned restaurants in town and this is one of them. It’s not Big Boy or one of the other chains. It’s the oldest one in town and a lot of kids grew up here,” Cain said. “It’s [also] not pre-made, packaged food.”

Mayor John Quinn says this is exactly why he comes in every morning before work and every Saturday with his wife.

“I come in for the home fries. They are the real old fashioned home fries and not just something out of a box,” he said. “It also has that hometown atmosphere.”

This home style type of cooking has always been the Grill’s signature characteristic, especially back when a hamburger only cost 80 cents.

In an article published in The BG News in 1983, previous owner of the Grill, Mary Traver, said she used to get to work at a quarter to 5 every morning to make pies.

Cain keeps this tradition going. Though not all the food is homemade, some items that are include soup, home fries, liver and onions, beef tips, pies, cakes and all of the breakfast food.

The Grill never had menus, except for one on the wall, until January. So, Cain suggests to his customers that they invent their own meals.

“One guy comes in and gets a gyro omelet. He just puts the gyro meat in his omelet,” he said.

“I’ve learned how my customers want their food made. Some of them want their toast burned, some of them want their eggs a certain way. So, after time I’ve learned how to make the food the way they want it and how they expect it.”

However, Cain says there is never a typical day at the Grill.

The grill is open 24 hours a day, so people from all walks of life, including professors, retirees and college students, stop in to eat at the diner.

“We usually have our 20 to 30 regulars, then you sprinkle in a few unusual characters that might come in. By 6 a.m., usually the drunks are gone and then we start in our morning crowd,” he said.

Right now the seven booths are filled and it is Cain’s job to serve each customer. This is nothing new to the Corner Grill staff. For each shift, there is typically one cook and one server.

Though the quaint little diner is calm and quiet during the day, it is the late night crowd, the college students that turn the atmosphere into something quite different.

“You get anything from a really nice drunk crowd to a real violent one. Last night they caught a kid punching out my wall in my bathroom. Also, by the door, there is a hole punched through the wall,” Cain said.

NIGHTS AT THE GRILL

It is now 1 a.m. on a Friday night.

The one waitress and the one cook, both dressed in jeans, black shirts and tennis shoes, sit exhausted, waiting for the students to parade through the doors in a drunken state after the bars let out.

That is exactly what they get.

The bell attached to the front door dings.

A group of girls flop into a booth, talking at a noise level suitable to a bar.

Before she can even get four ice waters out to the girls in the booth, more students burst through the door. In a matter of about 15 minutes, the diner is filled with hungry, loud college students and the waitress fulfills each one’s needs by herself.

Drunken people tend to get rowdy, but the Grill does not even have enough room for security guards to keep order. So the waitress also serves as the bouncer.

“Man, the waitress is tough. I’ve seen her take people by the arms and throw them out the door,” said one student.

Though the Grill is less than a family restaurant at this hour, it is still the place where everybody knows your name.

As new customers walk through the door from out of town, they want to know what is good to eat at the diner.

The regulars do not hesitate to share their food.

One student offers his hot cheese cubes to a stranger to help him decide what to order.

When the bell attached to the door dings again, a man stumbles in. Due to his intoxicated state, he looks a little confused.

But he is not confused. He knows exactly where he is. In fact, he is a regular, too. The waitress teases him, and doesn’t bother to take his order before serving up his usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

He gobbles it down, pays and stumbles back out the door.

The Grill has served an array of different types of people.

Located directly on State Route 25, or the historic Dixie Highway, the Corner Grill has been serving travelers and residents for years. The significance of the building lies in its direct relation to the road. During the height of travel on the Dixie, many roadside restaurants like the Corner Grill began to flourish, according to the Ohio Historic Inventory from the Ohio Historical Society.

“Judges and lawyers used to try cases in here,” Cain said. “Not literally. But the judge and attorneys would sit in here and try and figure it out. They’d come from the courthouse, eat breakfast, drink coffee and decide what they were going to do.”

Though the owners have changed over the years, all owners have considered the Grill their second home.

Cain says people loved previous owner, Linda Stacy. But she could not put any more time into the Grill.

“The place is a lot of work,” he said.

The owners are about the only thing that has changed at the Corner Grill on the corner of Main and Court streets in downtown Bowling Green.

The diner has and will remain a Bowling Green milestone for good home cooking, good conversation and familiar faces.

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