History of the West Park

Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio

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Nick's Restaurant

(earlier Josephine's Restaurant, then, Grande Restaurant)
14137 Lorain Avenue
(south side of Lorain between the current Marco's Pizza and Burger King)

by Gary Swilik

Nick'sIn the era before fast-food chains had an outlet at every major intersection, Cleveland w They made up for their lack of luxury with home cooking, as home to hundreds of little "mom-and-pop" restaurants.friendly service, and plenty of atmosphere. Frequently owned by older couples or housewives seeking extra income, the names of these small eateries sometimes changed more often than the menu. Among these legions of eating establishments was Nick's Restaurant in West Park.

The story of this picturesque neighborhood lunchroom begins in 1939, when John and Josephine Heffenfelder bought and moved into a house at 14137 Lorain Avenue in Cleveland. John was born in Hungary in about 1882 and arrived in the United States in 1913. He found employment as a machinist in the tool-making industry. His wife, Josephine, also a native of Hungary, was born in 1899.

The Heffenfelder's home was on the south side of the Lorain, between West 140th and West 143rd. Built in about 1915, it was set way back on a very deep lot. The only thing between the Heffenfelder's front door and Lorain Avenue was a grassy yard.

The Heffenfelder's home was on the south side of the Lorain, between West 140th and West 143rd. Built in about 1915, it was set way back on a very deep lot. The only thing between the Heffenfelder's front door and Lorain Avenue was a grassy yard.

"She was a tough fun-loving lady who had been through some hard times," says Michael. "She caught flu during the pandemic of 1918 and survived. She also once had her hand caught in some machinery while working at a cookie or candy factory. The ring she was wearing saved her but they had to perform what was then ground-breaking surgery to save her hand.

The West Park neighborhood was one of the fastest growing areas in Cleveland in the 1940s. As the Heffenfelders watched the traffic increase in front of their home, they decided their front yard on busy Lorain Avenue was a prime site for a diner. The number of industrial manufacturers and shops was increasing, especially on the north side of Lorain and along West 140th. This was bringing workers into the area who would need a convenient place to get meals. Hoping to meet the demand, the Heffenfelders constructed a small restaurant, separate from their house, out near the sidewalk on Lorain.

Cleveland building permits show the Heffenfelders began construction of a concrete block building in October, 1947. The finished structure was 20 feet wide and about 33 feet long. The official name was "Josephine's Restaurant" and apparently Josephine herself did all the cooking.

The author has not located any Yellow Pages or other advertising for the restaurant. They depended on their street-front location to attract customers. However in July, 1950, the Heffenfelders did install a small electrified sign on a wood pole next to the sidewalk in front of their business. It read simply "LUNCH."

In fact, the sign was so close to the street it hung over the sidewalk and city inspectors promptly forced the Heffenfelders to move it further back on the property where it remained for the life of the restaurant.

Indications are Josephine's Restaurant was not an overwhelming financial success. Although the Heffenfelders kept it open for several years, the building was vacant by the early 1950s. In March, 1953, John Heffenfelder passed away leaving Josephine a widow. The little lunchroom in her front yard sat empty.

The Grande Years

The unoccupied restaurant on bustling Lorain Avenue attracted the attention of a local couple, Frank and Ruth Grande, who were looking for a location in which to open their own restaurant. Josephine was happy to lease the building to them.

Frank GrandeRestaurateur Frank Grande (right) was born in Pennsylvania and later came to Ohio, where he met and married native Clevelander Ruth Schickel in about 1937. Their two daughters, Marilyn and Donna, became friendly with Josephine Heffenfelder who, at that time, was still living in the house behind the restaurant.

"Yes, I remember Josephine," says Marilyn, of Parma, Ohio. "I spent a lot of time back at her house. She always wore a dress. She would make banana cake and chicken paprikash. Her yard extended all the way from Lorain back to Berwyn Avenue. People called her 'Josie or Big Jo,' and her daughter, also named Josephine, was called 'Little Jo.'"

"Mrs. Heffenfelder used to tell us scary stories about back in Hungary where she was born," adds Marilyn's sister, Donna, of North Ridgeville, Ohio. "She told us about a restaurant where the seats would drop you down in the basement and you'd be cut up into sausage for pizza," Donna chuckles. "But Mrs. Heffenfelder was really nice. Her daughter Little Jo was best friends with my sister."

(Sometime in the 1960s, Josephine Heffenfelder moved away from Ohio. She passed away in 1979 in Bakersfield, California, at the age of 80. Josephine's daughter, "Little Jo," died at age 65 in Portland, Oregon, in 2006.)

When Frank and Ruth Grande took over Josephine Heffenfelder's lunchroom they renamed it simply the "Grande Restaurant." The couple was not new to the food service business.

TruckDuring the 1940s, Frank sold fruits and vegetables from his own truck. "We used to get up at 3 or 4 am," daughter Marilyn remembers, "and go downtown to the Northern Ohio Food Terminal to pick up produce. Then we'd ride around in the truck together selling it. We'd stop and get a quart of milk to drink along the way. Eventually we got to know regular customers. Dad would carry vegetables into customers' houses on his shoulder."

In 1950, tired of the grind of selling from his truck, Frank Grande decided to open his own restaurant. "It was becoming popular to go to big grocery stores for all your shopping, rather than a separate bakery, butcher shop, and produce market," explains Marilyn. "My dad knew this was not a good sign for his produce business. He was also getting older and wanted to be in one place. So my parents got their first restaurant on East 66th Street across from League Park where the Indians used to play all their baseball games. Dad would say 'you'll always have food to eat owning a restaurant.'"

By 1952, when Frank and Ruth Grande rented the building on Lorain Avenue from Josephine Heffenfelder and opened Grande's Restaurant, they were old pros at food service. In spite of the somewhat limited space, the diner on Lorain Avenue included a counter with stools and several small tables with wooden chairs. The kitchen was in the back and, of course, there was a restroom.

"They served breakfast, lunch, and dinner," says Marilyn. "They were open for all three meals. I remember the eggs and pancakes, hamburgers and chili. My father made his own chili. Dad used to write what we were serving on a blackboard but I think we had paper menus, too."

teens"My parents served really good home-cooked meals," Donna tells us. "Great chili! My father usually cooked. My mom was the waitress but she could cook too, if dad was out on errands."

"I used to spin the stools," laughs Donna, "and try to keep them all going at once. And we had a Wurlitzer jukebox with the bubbles coming up the side. A lot of kids came in from John Marshall after school. My future husband, Robert Etchell, was one of them. He would play the spoons, putting them together and hitting them on his knees and hands. I just thought that was the coolest thing! We went together for only a month before we were married but it worked out."

"We had a TV for customers to watch," Marilyn remembers. ""One guy always came in that my mom called 'Dorothy Fuldheim.' (Referring to the well-known Cleveland television personality.) He would eat, read the paper and always watch Dorothy Fuldheim."

The Grande Family ran the restaurant through 1955. Josephine Heffenfelder wanted to sell the property, rather than continuing to lease it, and offered the building and house to Frank Grande. However Frank wasn't interested in the proposition and went on to run the Lakeside Grill, on Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland, for about 10 years. Frank Grande died at the age of 60 in 1966. His wife Ruth passed away in 1977.

Frank Grande had declined the chance to buy the restaurant but Josephine soon found other buyers. In late 1955, Nicholas and Maria Boich became the new owners of the former Grande restaurant, along with Josephine's house behind it. The new name of the eatery "Nick's Restaurant."

Frank and Ruth (Schickel) Grand ran their restaurant
 in the diner originally built by John and Josephine Heffenfelder.
Photograph courtesy of Marilyn Grande Meliti.

Regrettably, our only photo of Josephine Heffenfelder is this blurry
image in which she is turned away from the photographer while
sitting at her kitchen table in her home at 14137 Lorain Avenue.  The
woman facing the camera is Ruth Grant, who rented the empty eatery
from Josephine and, with her husband Frank, ran it as the Grand Restaurant
Photograph courtesy of Marilyn Grande Meliti.

Nick Boich and the Final Years

Nicholas "Nick" Boich was an Ohio-born Yugoslavian, as explained by his son William, now of Spring Hill, Florida.

"My father was born on the near east side of Cleveland in 1902," explains William. "His parents - my grandparents - stayed in Cleveland for a while then went back to Yugoslavia. But somehow my dad ended up back here in the U.S. He was living in Manhattan, New York, during the great depression, where he helped support the family by playing the violin."

Somewhere in his travels Nick Boich met and married Maria Radic who was born in Yugoslavia in 1904. Their first son, Nicholas, Jr., was born in about 1924. His much younger brother, William, was born in Newark, NJ, many years later in about 1947.
"I seem to remember my parents told me they decided to come to Cleveland because, for some reason, they thought it offered a better opportunity to find a wife for my brother," recalls William. "They also brought my father's mother over from Yugoslavia and she lived with us, too."

"We had a grocery store at West 112th and Belmont Avenue, just off West 117th," William tells us. "The store was on the first floor and we lived above it. My dad also worked as a butcher in the grocery."

Tragedy struck the family in March, 1955, when son Nicholas Jr. lost his life in a car accident. "The roads were slick," says William. "My brother's car skidded on a bridge. Of course, it affected my mother deeply. I remember her telling me my father bought her a TV to help keep her mind occupied."

Shortly after this Nicholas and Maria Boich bought the restaurant and home on Lorain Avenue from Josephine Heffenfelder. Their decision to open a diner makes sense.

"My father had been in the army toward the end of the war," William explains. "He was a mess hall cook. He was a good cook and so was my mother. And they also had experience from the grocery store. They called the restaurant simply 'Nick's.'"

"It was a two-person operation run by my mother and father," continues son William. "I would say it could seat about twenty people. They opened at 5:30 in the morning and stayed open late enough to serve lunch and dinner. It was nothing exotic. Just good American food. Most of the customers were truck drivers or workers from the foundry and factories on the other side of Lorain Avenue. It was a busy place."

"I graduated from 6th grade at Garfield School on West 140th," says William. "Then from John Marshall High in 1966. There were times when I didn't have too many friends because I was helping out a lot in the restaurant."

"I remember how different the area around the restaurant used to look," William tells us. "Next to us on the east was a two-family house. East of that was a blacksmith shop (owned by Tom Ward) that looked just like one in the movies. On the west was a building that was half bar and half pool tables. West of the bar was another house with a real estate business of some sort run by man whose name sounded like 'Mr. Check.' Then there was a vacant lot and finally West 143rd Street where all the apartments were later built."

In 1960 the Boichs sold the rear section of their property, fronting on Berwyn Avenue, to a builder who constructed a house on the site in 1961. It still stands today at 14152 Berwyn Avenue, directly south of where Nick's Restaurant was located on Lorain.

Nicholas and Maria Boich continued to run the restaurant, and live in the house behind it, until about September, 1963. "We sold it because dad got a job working for the State of Ohio," says William. "We were bought out by the family (Rosen) that owned Rose Drug Store at West Boulevard and Madison Avenue. They also bought the property next door."

The Boich Family then bought an apartment building at West 119th and Lorain Avenue. They lived in the back and rented out the two stores in the front. They retired to Florida in 1974. Nick Boich died in 1982 at age 79. His wife Maria passed away at age 85 in 1989. They are buried at Sunset Memorial Park in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.

Meanwhile, in the 1960s, the property that included Nick's restaurant and the land on either side of it, came into the possession of the Colombo Family. The old wood frame homes and small businesses on Lorain Avenue were demolished, and replaced with new brick buildings housing such enterprises as Colombo Builders, Colombo's Beverage Store, the Rapid Car Wash, and Burger King, which opened in about 1971.
The old Nick's restaurant became a TV and radio repair shop, and then a laundry, each business lasting only a short time. By 1968 the old eatery was vacant. The little building that had opened as Josephine's Restaurant, became Grande's, and finally Nick's, survived until 1969. In June of that year it was demolished, along with the house behind it.
If the restaurant were to magically reappear at its old location, it would be sitting in the parking lot on the south side of Lorain Avenue near West 143rd Street, between Marco's Pizza on the east and Burger King on the west. And if it did reappear, the author would immediately go in and have lunch. Something he always wanted to do when he walked past the restaurant as a young boy and thought to himself how Nick's looked exactly like the kind of diner you see in old movies.

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Updated 5 July 2014