History Lesson: Famed Restaurant The Maramor Returns for One Evening
My good friend Jerry Glick knows of my interest in Columbus History and recently gave me a signed copy of David Cohen’s oddly titled book Sorry, Downtown Columbus is Closed. As I started to read through it I noticed an interesting connection to the Columbus Historical Society’s Historical Dinner Club series. On page 21, he begins a chapter on the four All-Time Best restaurants in Columbus.
The Historical Dinner Club has already celebrated the Kahiki and the Jai Lai and on April 22 will re-create the Maramor at Alana’s Food and Wine. The Maramor is probably one that not many readers of CU will be familiar with since it closed its doors in the early 1970s and the building at 137 East Broad Street was demolished in 1972 to make way for the Bank One building (now known as PNC). But this little known restaurant has a terrific history I would like to share.
In A Historical Guidebook to Old Columbus, written by my CHS colleague Bob Hunter, the Maramor was started by a single woman named Mary Love in 1920. The restaurant’s original location was in a house located at 112 East Broad. The name Maramor is a contraction of Mary’s first name and last name Love, in the French amour.
Author Jan Whitaker has done extensive research on Mary:
Mary was a home economist who had previously managed the tea room at the F & R Lazarus department store. Single, 29 years old, and a lodger in a family’s home, she opened a small place at 112 E. Broad in 1920. Not much later she married Malcolm McGuckin and for a few years they lived in California where he ran a Wills Sainte Claire auto dealership. When the car plant shut down in 1927 the McGuckins moved back to Columbus to run the restaurant, now at 137 E. Broad.
Apparently, Ms. McGuckin, née Love managed the restaurant in a style that today would likely be described as co-operative. In a 1946 article about the restaurant, by sociologist William Foote Whyte, Mary emphasized listening, participation, and sensitivity to other’s feelings.
Mary also placed great care in making certain that each dish left the kitchen in the most elegant way possible. It was one woman’s single duty to plate all the meals so they appeared as beautiful as they were delicious. And as unlikely as it seems, none of the dinnerware was matched and it was common for diners to all be served their meals on lovely mis-matched china of the highest quality.
The restaurant was soon garnering accolades from the likes of Broadway stars such as Helen Hayes, Lynne Fontanne, and Alfred Lunt who were performing in Columbus at the Hartmann Theatre located nearby. While Helen Hayes was appearing as a Queen in “Victoria Regina” she praised the vichyssoise declaring it “soup to a queen’s taste.”
Perhaps more importantly than testimonials from show folk, was a 4-star rating from Duncan Hines. In the 1940s and 1950s, Mr. Hines was not just the name of a cake mix brand, but was America’s leading restaurant critic.
In a story for the Columbus Dispatch concerning the critic, Karen Weitzel writes, “his focus was down-home cooking and he pursued well-prepared food made from local ingredients.” Hines was very fond of the Maramor and in his 1955 autobiography Duncan Hines’ Food Odyssey, he made this very specific mention:
I’M ALWAYS delighted when my journey takes me through Columbus, Ohio, for then I’ll have at least one meal at The Maramor Restaurant… The cookery at The Maramor is traditionally American, and here broiled calf liver with bacon, celery and almonds supreme takes on a new meaning.
Even the much-maligned roast beef hash with poached egg is something to call forth plaudits at The Maramor. It costs almost as much as the pan-baked chicken in cream, too, a clue to the fact that this is no ordinary hash compounded of last night’s failures, but a proud creation that stands on its own merits.
There’s a bit of Paris in Maramor Lane, the new cocktail lounge — a sidewalk cafe featuring excellent drinks from around the world. We like to stop there and play the part of boulevardiers before we go to dinner.
High praise indeed, confirming my thought that the seeds of Columbus gaining a national reputation as a “foodie” city were planted more than a half century ago by this highly influential critic.
Another component that distinguished the Maramor was the gift and candy shop run by Browney Pavey. Mr. Pavey brought in crystal and linens from Europe, porcelain items and unusual gifts from around the globe that couldn’t be located anywhere else in Columbus. In addition, the shop carried handmade chocolates and they were so highly regarded that Browney even developed a mail order catalogue that was distributed all over the country.
And if that weren’t enough, Columbus’ best-known watercolorist Alice Schille, who was a friend of Mary McGuckin’s, designed the motifs that were used on the chocolate boxes. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because her watercolors were quite often on display in the sophisticated dining room of the restaurant.
Alice was also a dear friend of Parisians Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas. In 1934, the pair visited Columbus and according to Jan Whitaker, the Maramor was likely the restaurant they described when they wrote:
In Columbus, Ohio, there was a small restaurant that served meals that would have been my pride if they had come to our table from our kitchen. The cooks were women and the owner was a woman and it was managed by women. The cooking was beyond compare, neither fluffy nor emasculated, as women’s cooking can be but succulent and savoury.
In addition to the chocolates, another of the best-known and fondly remembered treats from the Maramor was the Floating Island. Here is the recipe as recollected by Cynthia Pavey Rieth for The Columbus Dispatch in 1994:
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Beat egg yolks until pale yellow. Add 1/4 cup sugar, the salt and cornstarch. Scald milk in top of double boiler over low heat (do not let boil). Slowly add egg mixture and stir until it thickens. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cool.
Beat egg whites with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla until the mixture forms soft peaks. Transfer custard into oven-proof serving dish. Top with meringue and sprinkle lightly with additional ground nutmeg. Place under a broiler for 2 minutes or until meringue is brown. Chill thoroughly. Makes 4 servings.
In 1945, the McGuckins sold the restaurant to Maurice Sher and in 1957, Mr. Danny Deeds was hired to manage it.
“Danny Deeds was one of the best restaurant characters in this city,” said Doral Chenoweth, The Grumpy Gourmet of The Columbus Dispatch. “But his legacy is as much legitimate theater and traveling acts as it is restaurants. He set high standards in this town.”
As I’ve chronicled before, in the 1960s, restaurants were beginning to move from Downtown to the suburban areas. Danny decided to give the Maramor a bit of a make-over in the form of a nightclub that brought in nationally known entertainment. While some diners of the time declared that this move brought the quality of the food down a star or two, it did bring nationally known stars to Columbus.
According to local theatre historian Phil Sheridan, Deeds took a lot of risks. “He has a very rich legacy. He was bringing top acts to the Maramor for years.”
Phyllis Diller, John Davidson, The Smothers Brothers, and even the “Velvet Fog” Mel Torme, were just a handful of the stars that entertained the diners at the Maramor. Torme reportedly once told a gossip columnist that he liked three things about Columbus: The Maramor, owner Danny Deeds, and Maramor chocolates. He went on to say, “Deeds pays me off with chocolate.”
But even an institution as venerated as the Maramor eventually was shuttered. In 1968, the building was purchased for $600,00.00 and in 1972, the building was torn down.
Fortunately, though, the legacy of the delicious candy lives on because when the restaurant closed its doors, the owners decided to concentrate on the chocolates. From 1970 until 2002, the focus was on crafting delicious candy for cruise lines, hotels, fund-raising and gift baskets. In 2002, the current owners bought the company and changed the name from the Maramor Candy Company to Maramor Chocolates. Today, the chocolatier produces sweets under their own brand name, as well as many private label names.
To me, the legacy and spirit of the Maramor is alive and well not only with Maramor Chocolates but also in the hands of acclaimed local ladies, Alana Shock, Elizabeth Lessner, and Jeni Britton Bauer. All of these women focus on creating locally sourced and sustainable delicious food in much the same way as Columbus pioneering businesswoman Mary Love McGuckin.
To close, I will quote a charming poem found on a postcard designed to promote the Maramor in the 1930s and 1940s by local artist and Billy Ireland protégé Dudley Fisher.
“I travel east, I travel west, the Maramor withstands the test.
I stay at home for weeks on end, the Maramor remains my friend.
And when in foreign parts I roam or when I stick right close to home.
I find an ever growing clan of folks gone Maramorian”
For further information see: A Historical Guidebook to Old Columbus by Bob Hunter with Lucy Wolfe. Restauranting through History by Jan Whitaker.
Those who love history and love food, will be interested in attending the Historical Dinner Club No. 3 featuring The Maramor. A special menu, reimagined for one night only by Chef Alana Shock of Alana’s Food & Wine, will be offered. Enjoy an exclusive evening filled with history and memories as we pay tribute to one of the most famed restaurants of Columbus.
The dinner will be held Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 at 6pm at Alana’s Food & Wine, 2333 North High Street, Columbus, Ohio 43202. Reservations are $125 per person – program, dinner, alcohol, taxes, and gratuity included- with proceeds benefiting the Columbus Historical Society. Reservations are limited to 40. For more information and to make a reservation, visit ColumbusHistoricalSociety.org.