It was a year ago, but Mona Speer remembers the order well: Porterhouse steak, cooked to medium.
The waitress at Akron’s Diamond Grille remembers the customer who ordered it even better: golfer Tiger Woods.
“He came in two nights in a row last year,” Speer recalled, noting that Woods also dined at the restaurant in 2011. “He’s a very good tipper — excellent — and he’s very polite and very nice,” she added.
For decades, downtown Akron’s oldest restaurant has hosted some of the sports world’s glitterati for dinner. With the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club and the Canton Pro Football Hall of Fame’s induction both this weekend, there’s a good chance there will be a big name or two at the Diamond Grille once again.
Ted Thomas, who with his brother Nick owns the restaurant, said he knows that he already has served tables of golfers this week, but he’s frankly not sure who all of them were. “They’re all new faces, it’s hard to tell,” he said.
Thomas said Lance Barrow, who produces golf for CBS, comes in nearly every night he’s in town. When he sees Barrow shaking hands with a group of people, Thomas said it’s a good hint that they’re on the tour.
Thomas said the tradition of golfers coming to the Diamond Grille began with the late Miller Barber, who was on the PGA Tour from 1964 to 1978. “He was the first golfer to come to the restaurant,” he said.
Since then, many have followed, including Woods.
Speer said the staff typically doesn’t know who’s coming in, because they often have reservations in a different name. In her nearly 10 years at the Diamond, she has come to expect seeing famous golfers on tournament weekend.
For those who may want to take part in a little golfer-gazing, yes, the Diamond Grille at 77 W. Market St. does have openings in its reservation book for this weekend. So does Ken Stewart’s Grille, at 1970 W. Market St., where many golfers are return customers.
They started arriving Monday, said Jeannie Biggins, general manager for Ken Stewart restaurants. Because many of the golfers are coming from the RBC Canadian Open in Ontario, they have been arriving in Akron earlier than other years; usually the restaurant wouldn’t start to see their regulars until Wednesday or Thursday of tournament week.
Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell all have been return customers at Ken Stewart’s, she said. Biggins said the golfers are very friendly and approachable, but the restaurant does try to guard their privacy when they are eating.
Biggins said the golfers hear about Ken Stewart’s the same way others do — word of mouth.
“Many of them have been coming for a lot of years and they recommend to each other and the caddies talk to each other,” she said.
Word of mouth is one of the best ways that local restaurants get busy on weekends like this one, when so many events are going on in the area. In addition to Bridgestone and the Pro Football Hall of Fame with their athletes and spectators, the Twins Days Festival is taking place in Twinsburg, bringing a flood of visitors to the greater Akron area.
Greg Mervis, president of the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the boon to local restaurants is significant, particularly in the summer, a slow time for many eateries.
Whether it’s word of mouth, an online search, or a recommendation from a hotel desk clerk, Mervis said the bureau works to make sure that local restaurants are promoted, particularly locally owned favorites that are unique to Akron.
Inside hotel rooms in the region is the CVB visitors guide that includes a list of local restaurants, along with other local attractions.
“Applebee’s are great, but they’re everyplace. There’s only one Luigi’s. That’s what people will take back with them and remember,” Mervis said. “We want them to know about Moe’s, about Ken Stewart’s. … Cilantro, Luigi’s — the really cool independent and unique flavors of the community.”
Getting folks into the local eateries gives them a taste of Akron that they’ll remember and talk about after they leave, he said.
“They want a Facebook moment. They want to say, ‘I went to this really cool place in Akron and you would not believe this sandwich I got at the Lockview.’ That’s what people want to remember, and we have that here,” Mervis said.