The Forks was Pemberville’s gathering place


PEMBERVILLE — From 1958 to just a few years ago, The Forks restaurant in Pemberville was the place everyone went to after a Friday night game.

Every school has that place — in Ottawa at the former Red Pig Inn, where Ottawa-Glandorf fans would give former coach Dave Sweet a standing ovation when he walked in after the Titans won a basketball game.

At The Forks in the 1960s when Eastwood’s basketball team finished a 22-1 season, cheers were loud when the local news channel announced another victory on the 11 p.m. sports broadcast.

But, The Forks was more than that — it was a meeting place for farmers, opening at 6 a.m., and it typically did not close until 1 a.m.

Now that renovations are continuing to open a new Mexican-American restaurant there, the partners cannot help but recall the memories.

Three of the four partners, Jon Meyer, Tom Oberhouse, and Bob Frobose, were raised in Pemberville, and the fourth partner, Dave Olivarez and his wife Andrea, are moving to the village. They hope to provide a place where the community can come together like that again.

“Bob remembers, and Dave and Andrea have heard a lot of the stories, but growing up it was kind of like the anchor store in town,” said Meyer, whose favorite dish was the chef’s salad with French dressing.

“It was the place where everybody went after the ballgames. It was always busy for lunch. I remember rainy days were really busy days for farmers because they couldn’t get in the fields so they were there.

“I’m excited because even the kids and the families after the ballgames, they go somewhere else, I’m not sure where. So I’m hoping they all support it and come in.”

Frobose, who grew up on a farm on Alexander Road, added, “I remember going there as a little kid and my dad would come downtown on a rainy day in the summer time and he’d meet with all of his buddies at the bar. He’d have a shot and a beer and I’d get to have a ginger ale and I thought that was great. When I was in high school, it was always packed on Friday nights or whatever.”

It was even a favorite eatery for Bowling Green State University football coach Doyt Perry, recalls Mary Bockbrader, whose father Kenneth Bockbrader and mother Martha Bockbrader co-owned with Paul and Marie Wiggins from 1958-80.

“We did love it and it was so popular because Marie, dad, and Paul Wiggins, too were perfectionists,” Mary Bockbrader said. “He made it the best he could and was proud of it. Doyt Perry used to bring his kids in after a game.

“It’s like we never knew who was going to walk in the door because we had people all the time coming in — a contingency from Toledo, a contingency from Woodville, a contingency from Bowling Green.”

Began as a hotel

According to the “Pemberville Centennial Book of 1976,” the basic structure which contained The Forks restaurant was built in the 1880s, originally as the King’s Hotel, then later as the Bierly Hotel.

In 1912, the upper story was sold to Freedom Lodge No. 723, Independent Order of Oddfellows. It was later sold to the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ohio, which continued to own the upper story. The Order of Eastern Stars also utilized the facility.

At one time in its history, the building housed a garage, owned by the Hobart-Bowlus Company, which sold Buick automobiles. The lower portion later became the Red, White and Blue Restaurant, owned by Sam and Milly Baily.

An old-type saloon known as Rolf’s cafe existed there for many years under the ownership of Fred Rolf, and former owners included Don Brown, Al Jones, and Hobart Beach.

In 1958, the Wiggins and Bockbraders created a partnership and renamed it The Forks, a reference to the Portage River which intersects to the southeast of the restaurant and Pemberville’s business section. The village was also known to outsiders as The Forks before incorporated as Pemberville in 1876.

On July 13, 1981, The Forks was purchased by Tom and Sandy Reitzel from George Simon, who owned it briefly. It was then sold to Gordon Bowman, who later became Pemberville mayor, and its last owner was businessman Larry Moore.

Taking pride in serving Pemberville

Mary Bockbrader worked with her father for 12 years, from ages 12 ro 24, and her brother Jim Bockbrader was the bartender for 50 years, continuing decades after their father Kenneth’s death in 1975.

Jim, now retired, says he misses his work, but everyone in town knew him, and he knew everybody and what they drank.

“When he saw somebody coming into the front door he started making their drinks and before they even got settled or got their menu, he was serving them their drinks to get started,” Mary said.

Mary still has copies of the original menu, which lists the special dinner of the day for $3.50.

“The factories only gave a half hour and that is why we had to have a special,” Mary said. “They couldn’t close down any day of the week because everybody depended on that.

“In the mornings the bus drivers and the farmers, everybody came in after school. That is when a lot of the teachers came in and the golf leagues met there, people had meetings, and dad wanted to serve the community.”

Hamburgers were 35 cents, a milkshake was 30 cents, shrimp cocktail was 75 cents, a Porterhouse steak was $3.75 and whole pickerel, fish fillet, fried oysters, scallops and a sea food platter were all under $3 each.

But her favorite memory was the waitresses, including Mary Martinez and Helen Bushman, who worked for her father for 37 years.

“It’s just good to have a good restaurant in town,” Mary said. “The women — they were my mothers. Marie and all the waitresses there were my mother’s age and I went to schools with all of their kids.

“If it were not for all of those hard-working women that were there all the time the place wouldn’t have been half as good as it was.

“Everybody cared and they took such great pride in what they did, and everybody loved them. I mean Helen Bushman, she worked there forever. They were just wonderful people.”

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