Katie Byard
Beacon Journal staff writer

Akron’s oldest hamburger joint, a place that has stayed pretty much the same over its 84 years, has undergone a big change.

Bob’s Hamburg, boasting just a handful of booths and eight stools inside a converted streetcar, is now serving dinner, staying open until 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

For years, customers have lamented that the no-frills place at 1351 East Ave. — which predates Akron’s famed Swensons hamburgers by three years — was open only for breakfast and lunch, closing at 3:30 p.m. during the week and 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

“Good, good, good,” is what longtime customer Jackie Tatum told a Bob’s employee earlier this month when she heard of the extended hours.

“They were closing way too early. We need this in the neighborhood,” the home health aide said, noting that there are no other eateries nearby.

Customers frequently talk about how Bob’s outlasted a McDonald’s that opened across the street in the early 1960s and closed in 1997.

Tatum and her friend, Brenda Herrin, had just enjoyed a Bob’s breakfast — cooked on a decades-old grill in plain view of diners.

“We need the soul food,” Herrin said. Sure, Bob’s, in West Akron near Kenmore, is a hamburger joint, she said. “But you also have grits here, corn beef hash, biscuits and gravy. That is soul food.”

Aimee Buckeye, who became the sixth owner in July 2011, said “people say they can’t get here earlier, and want to come later, so we thought we’d try it out.”

After all, she said, staying open until 7 p.m. for Friday fish fries during Lent proved to be popular.

“Staying open later helps the neighborhood and [Bob’s] workers” who can pick up extra hours, said Buckeye, a quick-to-smile woman with a matter-of-fact speaking style. “It’s hard enough right now.”

Breakfast will still be available only until 11 a.m. “Can’t do breakfast late,” Buckeye said. “The grill is too small.”

The lunch fare is now also dinner fare, including a variety of burgers (a single “Bob’s Famous” is $3.45), hand-cut onion rings ($2.25), fish sandwiches ($5) and salads (grilled chicken at $5.25 is the most expensive). All burgers are hand-formed.

Buckeye often whips up a dessert; earlier this week a pineapple and pudding cake sat on the gray Formica counter, tempting customers.

Husband-and-wife employees Jimmy and Tina Lane will run the dinner operation.

Buckeye has added some items, such as a BBQ Bonanza Burger (with provolone cheese, bacon, barbecue sauce, mayo and lettuce) but has kept the basic breakfast-and-burger-joint theme. She pays homage to deceased longtime customers, naming items after them, such as Helen’s Skyline Burger. It’s a double hamburger with extra Bob Sauce (which boasts a barbecue tang).

Buckeye was careful not to gussy up the interior too much, keeping the authentic retro feel. She replaced the scuffed linoleum floor with fresh black-and-white checkerboard vinyl; red and white gingham curtains now match the newish red and white interior paint. But the booths, stools and other fixtures are the same as when she arrived.

The 45-year-old Cuyahoga Falls woman — who has four children — joined Bob’s as an employee seven years ago after she was laid off from her sales and marketing job in Cuyahoga Falls.

She had worked 16 years for TGI Friday’s in California and several Akron-area locations. When the then-owner of Bob’s began looking for a buyer in 2011, Buckeye decided to jump in. She had endured weeks of chemotherapy for stage three breast cancer that year, and decided if she could beat cancer, she could run Bob’s.

On a recent day, a steady stream of customers found their way there. You can’t judge how busy the place is from the number of patrons inside, because of the many phone orders, customers and Buckeye said.

But the small parking lot can get crowded. Customer Brenda Herrin recalled once parking at the McDonald’s and walking across East to Bob’s.

Restaurant history factoid: Bob’s Hamburg is named for Bob Holbrook, who started the restaurant in 1931. Walter Ridge bought the place later in the 1930s, owning it until 1981. He was Bob’s longest owner.

Sunday hours remain 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. “Gotta watch the Cavs,” Buckeye said.

Ken Stewart’s 25th

Here are more details on the 25th anniversary goings-on at Ken Stewart’s Grille, the West Akron fine dining establishment and lounge that is the flagship of Stewart’s eateries.

The restaurant, at 1970 W. Market St. in Akron’s Wallhaven neighborhood, will celebrate through May, with specially priced items from the 1990 menu and live music this Friday, continuing on Saturday evenings through the month.

Dishes include chicken wrapped in phyllo with a cream sauce ($25 for 25th anniversary) and smoked salmon with penne in a creamy dill sauce ($19.90 for the birth year). A two-martini lunch special for $25 includes two smaller gin or vodka traditional martinis and a New York strip steak.

In recent years, entrees have essentially been served a la carte. During May, they will come with a wedge or field green salad and choice of broccoli or home fries with rosemary. Dessert specials include hot apple dumpling for $2.95. Reservations are recommended. Call 330-867-2555 or visit the Facebook site.

Stewart opened the restaurant in 1990 at the site of the former Foley’s. He now has four, including Ken Stewart’s East Bank that opened in Cleveland in 2013.

Some longtime employees worked at Foley’s and have been with Stewart from the beginning, including server Karen Albright, general manager Jeannie Biggins and bartender Carol Giacobone.

Burger contest

You can be a burger innovator without having to actually make a burger. The John S. Knight convention center in downtown Akron is sponsoring a Burger Challenge to celebrate the 16th anniversary of its JSK Café, the outdoor eatery that opens for lunch every Friday during the summer.

Submit your written idea through 5 p.m. May 8. As in past contests, burgers will be selected from entries and placed on the menu at the café. Patrons can vote between May 29 (opening day) and Aug. 7. The winner, announced Aug. 14, will receive free lunch at the JSK Café for the entire 2016 season. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Friday through Sept. 4.

For rules and an entry form, visit www.johnsknightcenter.org.

Food trucks abound

The Tallmadge Food Truck Festival is returning May 31, with 20 trucks and shorter hours.

This year’s mobile food fest will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Last year, the city’s first festival featured nine trucks and drew about 5,000 attendees, with trucks running out of food after about three hours, explained Jessica Simon, manager of parks and recreation for the city.

Trucks offering a wide array of yummies, including barbecue, tacos, frozen custard, burgers, doughnuts and sushi, will set up in the Tallmadge Recreation Center parking lot. The center is at 46 N. Munroe Road, off East Avenue, east of Tallmadge Circle.

The Tallmadge Kiwanis will sell pop and water. Go to https://tallmadge-ohio.org.

Taste of Coventry

Reminder: The third annual Taste of Coventry, featuring food from area establishments and wine, runs from 6 to 9 p.m. May 7 at Prime 93, 4315 Manchester Road, New Franklin. The event, organized by the Coventry PTA, will raise money for playground equipment. Tickets are $40 at Pav’s Creamery, Ayers Insurance, Prime 93 and the administration offices of Coventry Local Schools. For information, call 330-990-0291.

Kirbie’s celebration

Kirbie’s Family Meats & Catering is hosting its annual Pre-Summer Celebration every Saturday in May from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The events change each week and will include samples of butcher shop specialties, summer picnic salads and side dishes. This Saturday’s event will feature pig roast tastings. The 33-year-old Kirbie’s is at 4062 Fishcreek Road in the Oregon Trails Plaza off Graham Road. Call 330-688-4333.

And the winners are…

More than 300 attended the 14th annual Men Who Cook fundraiser for Summa Health System at the Akron Art Museum last Friday.

Here are the winners who wowed the judges: entree, David James, Akron schools superintendent, pulled pork sliders; side dish, Dr. Shah Jalees, of Summa Physicians Inc. of Akron, chicken korma (curry) and saffron rice; and dessert, Lou Ciraldo, president of Summit Construction of Akron, for his Celebration Cake, a four-layer treat with whipped cream and homemade buttercream icing and fruit filling.

Ciraldo has participated in every Men Who Cook and was this year’s event committee chair.

The best veteran chef award went to Dr. Sonny Bare, with Summa Emergency Associates Inc. of Akron, for Ice Cream Peanut Butter Snow Balls. Best rookie chef went to James Martin, culinary service director at the Village at St. Edward in Fairlawn, for his chocolate ganache balls.

At the third Ramp Up Peninsula Festival on Saturday, this year at Hale Farm & Village in Bath Township, Grabham’s Candies of Cuyahoga Falls took first place in the ramp taste-off for its candies, including a chocolate curry truffle featuring ramps as an ingredient. The celebration of the ramp, a wild onion that is a favorite of spring foragers, is sponsored by the Peninsula Area Chamber of Commerce.

Tom+Chee opening

Tom+Chee, a grilled cheese and tomato soup chain with main offices in Cincinnati, opens Friday at Heritage Crossings, the new shopping complex in Green at Massillon and Graybill roads. The menu at Tom+Chee (as in tomato and cheese) includes grilled cheese doughnuts.

Find out more at the Tom+Chee Akron Facebook page.

Farmers market

Opening day for the outdoor Countryside Conservancy farmers market at Howe Meadow is Saturday. The market, featuring produce, meat and prepared food vendors, will run from 9 a.m. to noon each Saturday through Oct. 31. Howe Meadow is at 4040 Riverview Road, Cuyahoga Falls.

Countryside’s market in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood will open May 28. It will run from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Oct. 1.

Countryside is a nonprofit that promotes local farms, offers educational programs and manages farmers markets. See www.cvcountryside.org.

Wine tasting

West Point Market continues with its “First Friday” wine tastings — a lower-cost event featuring five wines, cheese, breads and other snacks — from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday. Cost is $10. It’s limited to the first 100 guests, and earlier events have been sellouts. West Point is at 1711 W. Market St., Akron. Call 330-864-2151.

Dandelion delights

The 22nd Dandelion Festival, on Friday and Saturday, will feature dandelions in food and wine, as well as arts and crafts vendors and kid-friendly events at 5773 Old Route 39, across from organizer Breitenbach Wine Cellars’ retail shop between Sugarcreek and Dover in Tuscarawas County.

A dandelion-picking contest for children of all ages is at noon Saturday. Dandelion sausage, bread, gravy, lasagna, ice cream and sangria will be available both days. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. Call 330-343-3603 or go to www.dandelionfestival.com.

Send local food news to Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com.