TOLEDO: When actor Burt Reynolds visited a little Hungarian eatery called Tony Packo’s in 1972, he offered to sign his autograph.



There was only one problem. There wasn’t any paper handy.



“Then somebody said, ‘A bun,’?” recalled Tony Packo Jr., the restaurant’s current owner. “You know, I’m rolling my eyes.”



Now he’s thanking his lucky stars.



Reynolds’ signature on that hot dog bun started a tradition for Tony Packo’s, a working-class restaurant that has become a culinary landmark. Today the original restaurant and its satellite locations are home to a collection of autographed hot dog buns that cover the walls and entertain the guests.



Actors and rock musicians and heads of state have put marker to roll. So have astronauts, athletes, magicians, celebrity chefs and just about anyone else of renown — even Bishop Daniel Thomas, the leader of Toledo’s Catholics and the recently named interim head of the Diocese of Cleveland.



“The bishop’s big,” Packo said reverently. And that’s coming from someone who has met presidents.





(Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

Tony Packo, Jr. poses with a small part of the vast autographed hot dog buns collection that line the walls at Tony Packo's in Toledo.


The framed buns are a quirky claim to fame for what was once just a little joint specializing in hearty Hungarian fare and spicy-sweet pickles, a place with red-and-white checked oilcloth on the tables and cooks bustling behind the takeout counter.



But the buns aren’t the only things that have put Tony Packo’s on America’s map.





(Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

A 1976 Jamie Farr autographed hot dog bun, one of several buns that he's signed that are on the walls at Tony Packo's in Toledo.


So did the TV series M*A*S*H, and more particularly, actor Jamie Farr. A Toledo native and Packo’s fan, Farr managed to work mentions of the restaurant into the lines for his character, another Toledoan named Cpl. Max Klinger. For the final episode in 1983, part of the restaurant’s exterior was duplicated on the Hollywood set, and Farr was filmed looking in the window.



Yes, Tony Packo’s has Farr’s signature on a bun, along with the autographs of other cast members. They were gathered when Packo’s served a meal on the set.



A tour around the original restaurant is a hot dog Who’s Who. Joan Rivers. Henry Mancini. Margaret Thatcher. All of the Monkees.



Mr. T signed his, “I pity the fool!” Chef Mario Batali added a wooden spoon to his bun and signed it, “Pass the pasta.” Former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce penned, “Root for the Buckeyes 12-9-83.” (For the record, OSU beat Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, 1984, scoring the winning touchdown with 39 seconds left.)





(Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

A hot dog bun signed by Donald Trump before he was president hangs on the wall at Tony Packo's in Toledo.




(Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

Strange bun fellows a trio of autographed hot dog buns signed by (from top to bottom) Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Joe Biden at Tony Packo's in Toledo.


Packo’s already has President Donald Trump’s autograph, displayed near the front door with other luminaries including Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Bing Crosby. Packo scored Trump’s signature when the then-candidate held a campaign rally at Toledo’s SeaGate Convention Centre.



As a general rule, celebrities have to come into one of the restaurants or be served a meal catered by Tony Packo’s to sign a bun. The restaurant doesn’t send buns off to be autographed, Packo said. “That would be cheesy.”



The genial, unassuming Packo grew up in the building where his parents started the restaurant in 1932 to serve the Hungarian neighborhood of Birmingham. An uncle had a bar across the street. Another had one down the road.



“The food was really an excuse to have a bar,” he said with a grin.



Packo loves to tell stories about the famous folks who have come through the door.



Most are pleasant, he said. A few have gotten drunk. Some are minor celebrities eager to be included with the bigger names.



Vice President Mike Pence, he said, showed up unannounced after the SeaGate Centre rally, having canceled a planned visit earlier in the day. President Jimmy Carter was gracious when he visited as a candidate and wrote “next president” on his bun, even though Packo said he didn’t act all that confident.



Asked to name his favorite signers, he offers an informal list. Mr. T (“a real nice guy”). Chelsea Clinton (“She was really nice”). And Tiny Tim.



Tiny Tim?



The curly haired, falsetto-singing celebrity had his ukulele with him, Packo said. “So he gets up onstage and starts playing Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” his signature song. “It was over the top, the screaming and yelling that went on.”



Packo guesses the restaurant has about 4,000 autographed buns altogether, some on display and the rest in storage.





(Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

Autographed hot dog buns line the walls at Tony Packo's in Toledo.


And in case you’re wondering, they don’t get moldy.



After the first 50 or so buns were signed, “we realized we’ve got a problem,” Packo said. “You know, these buns aren’t going to last forever.”



Now the restaurant uses fake buns, made from polystyrene foam and airbrushed to look like bread. The original signers, including Reynolds, Bob Hope and comedian Totie Fields, were all asked for replacement autographs.



Those faux buns can be painted over when a signer falls out of favor. “Like the ambassador to Hungary was here,” Packo said. “Nobody knows who he is.”



Fame, like bread, can be perishable.





(Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

Comedian Emo Phillips drew a smile face and a nice note on his autographed hot dog bun at Tony Packo's in Toledo.