COMMUNITY CONNECTION: Pappy’s waitress Debra Keese serves up a cold beer and a smoked pork sandwich. Her husband, Scott, co-owns the Grant Beach establishment.
Business Spotlight: The Dive on Main
Just off the corner of Nichols Street and Main Avenue sits an unassuming white building. It’s easy to overlook, but within its 822 square feet beats the heart of a community.
Inside, 22 booth seats, 10 tattered bar stools and a tiger-striped Oscar fish named Lassie wait to greet the day. The walls are lined with memories of the past – a list of World War II ration prices, Springfield rugby team memorabilia and vintage car posters. The bar proudly showcases elbow-worn blemishes, evidence of each beer consumed in good times and bad. Mugs, beer cans, stickers, photos, birthday beer tabs and chili-pepper lights complete the back wall.
Welcome to Pappy’s Place. The neighborhood restaurant and bar has been a fixture of the Grant Beach neighborhood for 90 years.
“We’ve always been between the cracks,” says co-owner Scott Keese. “We are not C-Street; we are not downtown. We’re just a neighborhood family.”
The barbecue restaurant is a family for most customers. Keese easily recalls the names of 35-year patrons and co-owner Mitzi Rupert regularly serves five generations of the same family.
“All roads lead you back to Pappy’s,” she says.
Longtime friends Rupert and Keese found their way home six years ago when they bought the business. Rupert has waitressed at Pappy’s on and off for 20 years and Keese previously owned the dive for a nine-year stint starting in 1996.
“There is a fine line between a dive and a dump,” Keese says. “I’d rather go to a dive all day long than an Applebee’s. I don’t think dive is a bad word, but if you do, that could be your loss.”
Known for its smoked pork sandwich – the $6.50 daily special served with gold BBQ sauce and fries – the food isn’t the only reason patrons come back.
“The food is excellent, but the company is better,” Rupert says.
Eating their way through roughly 250 pounds of smoked pork a week, the lunchtime clientele is a mix of nearby college students and city government workers and office types. Rupert says lunches represent the majority of business, but the co-owners decline to talk sales numbers.
Weekly homemade specials include spicy macaroni and cheese and the Pappy’s burger made of ground bacon and pork.
“We go there at least once a month,” says Joy Robertson, a local TV-news personality for KOLR 10.
She regularly takes her dad, Charles “Whitey” Robertson, a 94-year-old WWII veteran.
“Dad loves what he calls a ‘noon-time beer,’ and they have the coldest beer in town,” she says. “It’s so unassuming and full of character. It’s friendly. There is no attitude or agenda. There is something awesome happening in that little building.”
Built in 1903, the building housed a grocery and a shoe repair business, catering to the original St. John’s Hospital across the street.
“It was a place to pick up supplies while your loved one was in the hospital,” Rupert says. “It’s attached to the house next door and they even used to rent out rooms.”
The building found its true calling in 1926 when George and Mary Bills opened a cafe serving homestyle food – green beans, mashed potatoes and fried chicken. George Bills’ Cafe was issued Springfield’s first liquor-by-the-drink license following the repeal of prohibition in 1933. It remains the longest continuously running restaurant in the Queen City, and the land remains in the Bills family. Four generations later, the 89-year-old Ima Bills owns the property.
The Pappy’s name didn’t come until 1971, when Paul and Dorothy Ankrom purchased the business. Paul Ankrom was one of the original O’Reilly 13 who helped start the auto parts business, and his stepdaughter called him Pappy.
“She was Dorothy’s daughter,” Rupert says. “She didn’t call him dad, she called him Pappy instead. This was his place, and it stuck.”
While Pappy died in 1988, his legacy lives on. However, he’s not the only person immortalized on the brown-paneled walls. On Dec. 23, the restaurant celebrates Jim Hacker Day. Thirty-five years of Hacker Day buttons proudly hang over the bar.
“Jim used to come here six days a week. His wife dropped him up off on the way to work and picked him up on the way home. He nursed a Schlitz beer and talked,” says Rupert. “One day, the doctors told him he wouldn’t live to see another Christmas. December 23 rolled around and he was still here, so we celebrated.”
The celebrations continued another 13 years before Hacker died in 1993.
As franchisee after franchisee descends on Springfield, Keese says neighborhood restaurants like Pappy’s help the city retain its identity.
“Who wants the same food in any town they go to – not me,” he says. “It’s more important than ever to support mom and pop shops.”
Adorned with Pappy’s history and traditions, the folded paper menu sums up the eatery’s appeal: “It ain’t much, but we call it home. Where the beer is cold, the food is superb and the company divine.”
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