Gas Station to a Restaurant ......Now a Memory
In 1929 a small gas station was built on River Road in Waterville, Ohio at the base of the Waterville Bridge. Since River Road was the main road going north to Maumee and Toledo, and south to Napoleon and Defiance it would be good location for a new gas station. Christian Haulund from Maumee, Ohio chose this location in Waterville for his new Hi-Speed Gas Station. He was a partner of the Greenwalt and Hauland Distributing Company from Maumee. They had four Hi-Speed Gas stations, one in Waterville, one in Grand Rapids, Ohio and two in Maumee. Hi-Speed Gas was the brand name of gas and oil products from the Hickok Oil Company from Toledo. Grover Johnston, a WW I veteran from Waterville, was the operator of the Waterville Hi-Speed gas station. During WW II Haulund had to cut back in his gas and oil business because of gasoline rationing and shortages, so he closed his Waterville and Grand Rapids locations. Grandson Thomas D. Hauland remembers riding along on the tanker truck hauling gas from Hickok Oil to his gas stations.
The old gas station building sat empty for a number of years during and after the war. Gordon Fritz and Cal Rady from Toledo remodeled the building and opened it on July 18, 1949 as the River Road Grill. Cal Rady was a partner in the Village Kitchen on South River Road for the previous four years. Gordon did an extensive remodeling of the old gas station building to be used as a restaurant. It had a small basement which I believe had been the grease pit that was used for lubricating cars when it was a gas station. This was turned in to a storage area and the water heater was located there also.
I found in the August 23, 1949 issue of the Anthony Wayne Standard, a featured advertisement for a Sunday chicken dinner at the River Road Grill. Cecile Weckerly and Cecile Bierbaum (known as the two Cecile’s) did the cooking, along with the River Road Grill girls- Doris Amstutz, Carol Gingrich, Jean Kerr and Jean Lahr. Bonnie Heminger was reminiscing to me one day and told me that she and her then boyfriend used to stop in 1951 at the River Road Grill. She said “Gordon sat down and talked to us like we were old friends,” and “Gordon reminded me of Arthur Godfrey.”
In August of 1957 the River Road Grille was sold to James M. & Lela L. Poole. The Poole’s were the former proprietors of the Johnny’s Sandwich shop in Maumee. Apparently the Pooles could not make a go of it, so the property went back to Gordon Fritz in February of 1960 (per the property card). In September of 1960 Tom and Clara Reynolds from Toledo took over the operation of the River Road Grill. They did not operate it very long ether. Richard “Dick” Neely took over the operation of the River Road Grille in 1961. In the mid 1960’s it was known has Neelys River Road Grill. Phyllis Witzler recalled it was breakfast hangout for older men and guys that played golf at Riverby Hills Golf Club on Saturday’s.
Dick Neely bought the business and property on February 6, 1968 from Madelyn Fritz. I believe a short time later he renamed the restaurant the Village Inn. I have pictures of the restaurant from that time frame and it shows the business as the Village Inn. That is the name I remember it by in 1971-78. In 1991 Joseph and Jennifer Lee bought the Village Inn and renamed it to Lee’s Restaurant featuring Chinese & American food. They also built an addition onto the front of the building for additional seating. I believe they added a bar at that time to serve alcohol also.
In 1992, Pearl and Henry Fok opened The Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant which was located at 105 S 3rd Street where Shawn's Irish Tavern is located at now. In May of 1999, Jennifer Lee sold Pearl and Henry Fok the property at 38 N River and they moved the Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant to the new location. In 2016 the State of Ohio bought the restaurant property along with the house behind it for the approach for the new Waterville Bridge to be built alongside on the old bridge. Both buildings will be demolished in 2018. Today, January 16, 2018 the restaurant was taken down.
Note: written by Randy Studer