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You don’t need a time machine to experience a classic Midwest summer—you just have to go to Marion. When our editor called me into his office to start brainstorming for this issue of Stock & Barrel, the idea of nostalgia surrounded the word “summertime.” For me, summertime was spent just about 45 minutes north on [...]
Mitch Hooper

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You don’t need a time machine to experience a classic Midwest summer—you just have to go to Marion.

When our editor called me into his office to start brainstorming for this issue of Stock & Barrel, the idea of nostalgia surrounded the word “summertime.” For me, summertime was spent just about 45 minutes north on 23 in Marion, Ohio. You’ve probably heard of us for a mix of things: popcorn and festivals dedicated to just that (unique, fun, and tasty!), Warren G. Harding (controversial, but a good time!), and the Marion Power Shovel Company (I’m too young to even know what this actually was!)

I did all the normal kid summertime things: I played baseball on one of the four different teams offered from the same school; I avoided pools before games because every good father knows pools are and forever will be the kryptonite of any prodigy baseball player; and I inevitably quit baseball because every cool kid knows baseball practice kinda sucks and pools are kinda awesome. But the best part of my summer as a child had nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with the celebration afterwards.

It was pizza from one of the seemingly hundreds of options. Or maybe it was snagging an Oreo Clipper from the Jer-Zee (*name drop, Google it*), but never finishing it because I was 8-years-old and who trusts me with those kinds of decisions? And if I was really lucky, it was heading over to Stewart’s Root Beer for a truck picnic of delicious deep fried fair food.

Stewart’s Root Beer is your traditional, old school drive-in diner. Car hop service. Root beer floats. It’s everything you would imagine if you’ve ever pictured your grandparents (or, parents…) going out to grab a milkshake and a burger before they go shoot the loop and listen to Bill Haley. If you scroll through their ‘About Me’ on Facebook, you’ll notice they’ve been serving up bites since 1925, but the original Stewart’s started in 1924 by a man named Frank Stewart.

Legend has it that Frank was a school teacher who needed a little extra cash in the summertime so he opened up the first ever Stewart’s Drive-In in 1924. Just a year later, the small time drive-in made the move to where it currently resides in Marion as the oldest operating Stewart’s in the country. Michelle Whitaker, owner, operator, and general do-it-all superwoman, said the original Stewart’s would sell root beer and other sodas along with popcorn that was extra salty—business is business and those soda sales numbers don’t lie! Sundays were the big day as they were Popcorn Sundays—a major hit in a town that would eventually have a festival and museum about popcorn.

Eventually, Stewart’s would expand into a bigger menu, adding items like coney dogs, hamburgers, and fries as well as venturing into its most iconic feature: the root beer floats with hard ice cream. You park your car right next to the ordering machine and a carhop will bring your food right to your window on an aluminum tray. These menu updates throughout the early 1930s and into the 1950s are surprisingly just about it when it comes to the current menu. Whitaker, who started working at Stewart’s in 1996 as a carhop, said the families in the past haven’t added much to the menu and she’s been following suit.

Well, that and when she switched over from a traditional credit card reader to an iPad with a Square credit card reader, she caught a lot of flack from the regulars. People like their Stewart’s how it is, and she is well aware of that. Recently, someone stopped by on a Sunday asking for popcorn—that’s how long people have been coming here.

She’s added menu specials to see how they do—she’s been having success with hits like sweet corn nuggets (a personal favorite) and mac’n’cheese bites (a universal favorite)—and if they’re gaining enough love, she’ll keep ’em on the menu. Other than that, it’s the same coney dogs and super burgers they’ve been serving up for decades now.

Currently, Whitaker takes care of the operations of Stewart’s. She prepares food when things are getting busy in the small set-up. She takes orders from the cashier stand when the carhops are running orders and preparing drinks. She’s the handy-woman who knows what to do when the ice machine isn’t making ice on Sunday and it’s 85 degrees out. And she, along with her husband, make the nine-hour drive to New Jersey to restock on the iconic Stewart’s Root Beer every couple of months during operations.

It might seem chaotic at times, but Stewart’s staff is a close family that has been built on a word-of-mouth basis. Meaning they don’t have an application: you either know someone working at Stewart’s, or you don’t. My sister got a job there in high school because my cousin worked there. My cousin got the job because her best friend started there. She got the job because … you get the idea. Just like the restaurant, the staff is connected and entrenched into the joint’s 100-year history.

It also helps that Stewart’s is only open from March to September, another thing that keeps people coming back and loving it. In Marion, you know when that first halfway decent day in March comes everyone will be rushing over to Stewart’s for a quick bite. And you know right when the Popcorn Festival is about to come to town, people will be flocking for one last piece of homemade strawberry pie before they close up for the winter.

Beyond the menu, Whitaker said she does want to add on a few things to the restaurant. She added picnic tables in the back and those were a huge hit, so she plans to build on that momentum by adding some more tables as well as some more lighting. She’s free to add as she pleases, just as long as anything she adds is the color orange. She also mentioned dreams of creating a Stewart’s Food Truck—and to that I say, HELL YES—but for now it’s almost July and those strawberries for the pie aren’t gonna cut themselves. Much like my conversation I had with her before this story, she’s gotta get back to work and I don’t think she’d have it any other way.

Stewart’s Root Beer is located on 1036 N Main St. in Marion, Ohio. For more, visit stewartsmarion.com.

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Food & Drink

Slice into our top picks for National Pizza Party Day!

Mike Thomas

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May 17 is National Pizza Party Day—a celebration that is near and dear to our hearts at (614). And what better day of the week for an office pizza party than Friday?

To help you and your gang decide which pie(s) to go with on this momentous occasion, take a look at this roundup of some of our most primo pizza content. Bone apple teeth!

The best pizza in C-Bus according to Columbest Voters

The results for Columbest 2019 were announced in the May issue of (614) Magazine, with Harvest Pizzeria taking the top spot in the “best gourmet pizza” category, and Mikey’s Late Night winning “best traditional.”

26,000+ Columbest voters can’t be wrong. Let these hometown heroes provide the pie for a pizza party you won’t soon forget!

Pizza – Columbus Style

Did you know Columbus has its own distinct style? Edge to edge toppings, crispy crust, cut pub-style – these are some indications that you’re dining on Columbus’ own signature ‘za. Not sure what we’re talking about? Refer to this list to see what we mean.

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In Pizza We Trust

Need to grab a pie on the go? Look no further than a Pizza ATM conveniently located at OSU campus. Fair warning, since reporting on this a few months ago, we haven’t been back to see if this still exists. Something tells us this was either too weird of an idea to last, or too brilliant to ever die.

C-Bus pizza on the big stage

At this point, our fair city is no stranger to coverage in national publications – and our pizza is no exception. Earlier this year, food blog Rave Reviews included Columbus’ own Rubino’s and Mikey’s Late Night Slice on their Pizza Road Trip roundup of the best pies in the nation.

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Hey, @fussbucket… Nice #BINOS! #SausagePizza

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Deep dish (if you must…)

Is deep dish more your thing? We (I) think there’s something wrong with you, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the sauce-on-top monstrosity you crave. Check out our top picks for the “best” deep-dish style pizzas in town.

Celebrating National Pizza Party Day? Of course you are! Let us know your pizza of choice in the comments.

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Food & Drink

Outerbelt Brewing: small town, huge brewery

Mike Thomas

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With no end in sight for the craft beer boom, upstart breweries are leaving the city behind for the wide open spaces of the suburbs.

According to a report from Drink Up Columbus, Outerbelt Brewing will be the latest to toss their hat into the central Ohio Craft Beer ring when they open their doors in less than a month.

Located in a former Lowes hardware location at 3560 Dolson Ct. near Carroll, Ohio, Outerbelt Brewing is not far from Lancaster.

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Outerbelt is scheduled to open to the public on either June 8 or June 15, depending on construction deadlines. The new brewery will occupy about 25,000 square feet, with about 5,600 square feet set aside for a taproom. Plans also include a spacious 2,000 square foot patio.

Upon opening, Outerbelt plans to offer 10 beers on tap, as well as cold brew coffee.

Look for Outerbelt this Friday, May 18 at the Columbus Craft Beer Week kickoff party at Giant Eagle Market District, where some of their beer will be available to try. Outerbelt Beer will also be on hand Saturday at the Six One Pour Ohio Beer Festival at COSI.

To view pictures and to learn more about Outerbelt, check out the full story at Drink Up Columbus.

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Food & Drink

4 brewers talk past, present future of C-bus beer scene

Mike Thomas

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With the rise of craft beer, celebrations of America’s most popular alcoholic beverage are nearly as plentiful as the varieties of suds found on supermarket shelves.

Whether it’s a day set aside in honor of a given style (IPA day is observed Aug. 2) or a pseudo-holiday cash grab from a major international brewery, (Arthur’s Day is not a thing, Guinness) beer fans have plenty of occasions throughout the year to toast their favorite drink.

In honor of Columbus Craft Beer Week (May 17-25), (614) spoke to Columbus brewers Colin Vent at Seventh Son Brewing, Dan Shaffer at Land-Grant, Craig O’Herron at Sideswipe Brewing, and Chris Davison, at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in order to explore the beginnings of brew in the capital city, where it stands today, and what the future might hold.

(614): When you think of Columbus beer history, what comes to mind?

Vent: The recent history is pretty young. We were 7th or 8th six years ago, and now there’s over 50. Barley’s, Smoke House, Elevator, Columbus Brewing Company—those were around for 10 or 15 years, then all of the sudden, Four String, us, North High, and soon thereafter Land Grant popped up, and from there it’s just been crazy. Obviously all of Columbus [beer] history goes back hundreds of years; there used to be major production. Hoster was one of the largest breweries in the country.

Shaffer: I think of Barley’s, CBC, the people that were there at the beginning. We’re all standing on their shoulders. Obviously it’s all come a very long way. I’m trying to think of what the first craft beer I had in Columbus was. It was probably a CBC IPA.

(614): What are some prevailing trends that you see happening with beer in Columbus today?

O’Herron: I feel like we’ve gotten over a lot of the recent trends. We saw a lot of the New England IPAs, and then Brut IPAs to a lesser extent. I don’t know if there’s a trend that’s happening right this moment, but I’m sure we’ll see something new and wacky come around.

Davison: The national trend has been IPA, IPA, IPA, and I think Columbus is a microcosm of that. Ohio is an IPA state, and Columbus is an IPA city even more so than some other cities in the state. We’ve got a lot of the top-tier IPA breweries right now, a lot of people making really good IPA. I think that’s going to continue to rise, and I think we’re going to continue to see more styles [of IPA].

(614): What does the future hold for Columbus Beer? Have we reached a saturation point on how many breweries the city can sustain?

Vent: I don’t know that Columbus could take another 10 or 20 Land Grants and Seventh Sons, but I think it could take another 10 or 20 [breweries] that just want to have an awesome neighborhood brewpub. As many breweries as an area can sustain, that’s what there will be.

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Davison: I think it all comes down to what those breweries are trying to accomplish. Trying to be a production brewery that’s distributing cans across the entire state is going to get harder and harder, not that some won’t continue to grow and do that. I think there’s a ton of room for local brewpubs that don’t even want to sell their beer outside of their own bar. Every bar in this city could theoretically brew its own beer, and there’s no reason the city can’t sustain 500 breweries that are tiny like that.

Shaffer: Obviously people are gravitating towards local. I think it’s really cool that every neighborhood, instead of a watering hole, can have a local brewery. I think we’ll probably see more sours, probably more specialization. IPA’s aren’t going anywhere—there will be more IPA variants. When there is this much competition, you can’t afford to be a generic beer brewery anymore. There has to be something you’re passionate about, whether it’s Belgian or English styles, or pilsners, high-gravity stouts—whatever. There’s got to be something that you can say “this is what we’re all about.”

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