Local Landmark Offers Old-Fashioned Burgers and More
By Matt Clevenger
It’s been more than 75 years since Paul Klein served up the first K’s hamburger back in 1935. The unique, white-walled diner in downtown Troy is still known for putting out the area’s best old-fashioned burgers, fries and milkshakes.
“It’s funny, a lot of people call it a 1950s diner,” Klein’s daughter Marcia Ryan, who has managed the restaurant since 1987, said recently. “The truth is, it’s a 1930s diner.”
“It was five cents for a hamburger, five cents for chili and five cents for coffee,” she added. “They built it during the depression and dad always said ‘You probably think it’s strange that we only charged a nickel, but nickels were hard to come by back then. When anybody chose to spend a nickel with you, you felt honored.’”
Prices have risen slightly since then (a cheeseburger and fries still costs less than $4), but all of K’s famous diner fare is still made the old-fashioned way, using Klein’s original recipes. “We have five homemade soups and we serve breakfast all day long,” Ryan said. “Shakes still come in the canister and you can pour them into the glass. It’s always been that way, as long as I can remember.”
Cheeseburgers are K’s most popular menu item and over the years, their nationally-known burgers have drawn visits from numerous celebrities and politicians, including Senator Orrin Hatch and U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle. “We grind our own beef,” Ryan explained. “We use a wet grill and last I knew there were only about three of those left in the state. Most places use a dry grill.”
K’s is also known for its friendly service and the restaurant still uses the old-fashioned lunch-counter system so that the person who takes your order actually makes it. “When you order eggs, we go back and fry your eggs,” Ryan said. “That was the old system and I guess we never changed.”
Walking into K’s is like stepping back in time, thanks to authentic period décor ranging from old-fashioned menu boards to a neon sign that has been there since the 1940s. Most of the diner’s booths and tabletops are from 1958 and the kitchen also features several hand-painted signs from around the same time.
“We do eventually wear stuff out,” Ryan said. “But we try to replace it with something appropriate. A lot of times when we replace something, people don’t even notice.”
Keeping K’s authentic is important to Ryan, who grew up helping her parents with the family-owned business. Over the years, the unique diner has become an important local landmark, with a rich history that also reveals much about downtown Troy’s vibrant past.
Ryan’s parents Paul and Doris Klein first started K’s Hamburger Shop in 1935, in a tiny building that originally sat on the other side of the street. Construction of a new Chrysler super-showroom forced them to move the restaurant around 1940, so Klein bought land across the street and workers dragged the original building over there inch by inch with a borrowed tractor. “Across the street were just 10 stools,” Ryan remembered. “They had a counter but no booths … they got everything ready on this side, built the foundation and everything, and then just knew somebody who got a tractor and went out and drug it across the street.”
“I asked Dad how in the world they got that past the state,” she added. “He just said, ‘They were simpler times. One didn’t call Columbus to see what one could do in Troy.’”
The restaurant continued to grow in its new location and two room additions for extra seating were also completed by 1958. “It was fun,” Ryan said of downtown Troy during that time. “Next door was Dewey’s Grocery Store and Penny’s was across the street. There was Dean and Barry Paint on the corner and Curtis’s Bar down the street … it was very much people you saw and knew everyday, and yes, you did buy from your friends.”
“It was a great time to grow up,” she added. “There was a sense of downtown; helping your neighbor. You cared about what happened … Dad said ‘I think I was in business at the best possible time.’ Now they build right beside you and try to put you out.”
“It was a very social time,” Ryan said. “Friday and Saturday nights were really neat, because people came to town to neighbor … they wanted to get a good parking place and they’d get their groceries. They’d visit with people, and then they would come in and eat.”
The Kleins ran K’s up until 1987, when Ryan decided to quit her job at the Statehouse in Columbus so she could take over the popular restaurant. “It’s been fun,” she said. “I always enjoyed it growing up. My parents made it look easy – it isn’t, but when they did it, it looked easy.”
Of course, there have been a few significant changes at K’s over the years, including the addition of french fries and ketchup to the original menu, which Ryan still remembers. “We didn’t have fries back then,” she said. “One thing that always amused me is that we didn’t have ketchup back then either.”
Other things still remain the same to this day, making K’s Hamburger Shop a perfect getaway from the ever-changing world of fast food and corporate burger chains. “It’s just a different mindset,” Ryan said. “We still don’t do credit cards.”
K’s Hamburger Shop is located at 117 E. Main Street in Troy. Hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. For more information, please call (937) 339-3902.
Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at email@example.com.