State Road hangs on as diner’s destination; Portage Crossing could strengthen historic reputation

By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Jimmy Biggs Grille owner Pam Riley (right) with her daughter Katie Hastings. Jimmy Biggs Grille has been serving sandwiches and burgers at the State Road location for close to three years. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

If you lived in North Akron or the upper half of Summit County in the early 1970s, it’s a good bet that when your family headed out for dinner, they ended up on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls.

In March 1975, a Beacon Magazine report counted 41 restaurants between the High Level Bridge and the former State Road Shopping Center. The story labeled the 1.8-mile stretch “Eat Street.”

State Road is no longer the main thoroughfare headed north. State Route 8 now whisks motorists through the city or lures leisure-seekers to the Howe Road retail mecca.

And yet State Road still boasts 28 places to eat.

Councilman Jeff Iula has been busy comparing today’s State Road to the byway of yesteryear as part of a history book the Cuyahoga Falls Bicentennial Committee hopes to publish this spring.

He found only two restaurants remain in their original locations since 1975: McDonald’s and Cathedral Buffet. Four other fast-food places are still on the road but in new locations: Taco Bell, Arthur Treacher’s, Burger King and Arby’s.

The other restaurants from 1975 are gone, including Palumbo’s, Martini’s, Marcel’s, Dilullo’s, Ciriello’s, Leone’s, Peking, Tokyo and Hacienda.

Others have risen in their place, like Jimmy Bigg’s Grille, which has been serving sandwiches and burgers for 2½ years.

Owner Pam Riley, who was a server, bartender and cook, bought the place from her boss in October.

While Route 8 carries out-of-towners quickly past the city limits, State Road is still the main strip through the center of town, she said. She guessed most of her diners come from Cuyahoga Falls and North Hill.

Competition aside, Riley said there is a benefit to being in an active dining area. For starters, hungry folks know where to point their cars, even if they haven’t decided on a specific restaurant.

“There are lots of people who come across us” by simply driving down the road looking for a place to pull off, she said.

It has always been that way, Iula said.

“If I was hungry, I’d just drive down the road and think about what I wanted to eat” as he read the restaurant names, he said. “There were so many selections.”

Today, he said he’s happy to see there are still so many “mom and pop” restaurants still on the strip, including the Village Gardens, the Blue Door Cafe & Bakery, the Golden Dragon and Raj Mahal.

“They’ve had to compete with Howe Road and they’re making it,” Iula said. “I think that’s really neat.”

Mayor Don Robart said the road is definitely different since the expressway was put through a couple of miles to the east.

“The dynamics are much different. That we have 28 [restaurants there] is surprising,” he said.

He predicts the area’s dining reputation will only grow when the planned Portage Crossing development at State Road and Portage Trail takes shape. Speculated tenants include a Cinemark movie theater and assorted stores and restaurants.

Portage Crossing “is going to expand the sphere of influence in terms of who is coming into the area,” Robart said.

That should motivate existing “marginal restaurants” to upgrade or sell to motivated restaurateurs.

“When you have a $60 million project coming in, you’re going to see the traffic grow” to support the new investment, Robart said.

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.


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