Restaurants come and go, and the comings and goings too often are spaced remarkably close together — here today, gone tomorrow. So, when an 80-year anniversary is celebrated in the restaurant biz, that is a big deal. Sugar n’ Spice on Reading Road is an octogenarian this year, having been founded by Mort Keller in 1941. But even more noteworthy in my book is patronage that spans all those decades. Such is the story of Polly Stein, who has been a regular at the original Sugar n’ Spice almost from the beginning.
“I’ve been coming here since the late 40s, I think, since I was a teenager,” she said, mentioning that she will be 87 on her next birthday. “I come (here) about three times a week and sit at the counter (most of the time, though on this day she sat at a booth with a friend). My husband (the late Jacob Stein) and I used to come here frequently too. The food is always good, and the people are so friendly.”
Stein’s friend, Carol Dragul, is no Jane-come-lately either. “I’ve been coming here for 60 years. I didn’t come when Covid hit, but now that I have both my shots, I feel more comfortable going to inside restaurants,” Dragul stated, joining many other fully vaccinated diners-out who feel a renewed comfort and freedom to enjoy restaurant dining again.
As we talked, Dragul’s breakfast arrived at table: “I’m having a cheese omelet. They make the best omelets in the city—nobody else comes close. Look how fluffy it is! Their breakfasts are really outstanding, and comparable to any (you’ll find) at much more expensive places. The wispy-thin pancakes and the omelets and everything really, is just so good here.”
For Dragul, she appreciates the staff and the setup of the eatery. “First of all, it’s like friends. Everybody knows you when you come in. It’s so well designed (the layout of the dining area), and the servers come by and greet you and it’s just a very friendly place,” she said.
For Stein, that friendliness and staff knowledge is part of the allure as well: “I get special attention, because I order grilled cheese and tomato, but with mozzarella cheese. Usually, the grilled cheese comes with American cheese. But I like the mozzarella. It’s called the Polly Sandwich. All I do is ask for the Polly Sandwich and I get it. They are very accommodating here,” she said, claiming that the folks at Sugar n’ Spice may add the Polly to their menu, and that every server knows her preferences when it comes to her special sandwich.
During the interview with Stein and Dragul, a man in the next booth introduced himself as Micah Ovadia, saying that he could not help but overhear our exchange and wanted to add to the conversation. Turns out, Mort Keller, who opened Sugar n’ Spice all those years ago, was Ovadia’s grandfather. “He (Keller) was actually a barber, and he had a shop here. He didn’t want to be a barber anymore,” Ovadia said, and decided to open a restaurant instead.
Asked about his grandfather’s background, Ovadia had this to say: “Really, he didn’t have experience (in the restaurant business). But he went around to other restaurants and saw what they were doing, and just copied that, but did it better—not reinvent the wheel, but do it better.”
What he did better is come up with recipes that produced the wispy thin pancakes and the fluffy omelets and much more that has been on the menu for decades, the trio agreed. “And back then, there was no Interstate 75, and Reading Road was the main road people traveled to get into town. So, he was in a good place for all the people who went by,” Stein said. “They’d stop here; I think there were car-hops, too.”
Car-hops or not, Stein and Dragul are among many long-time patrons of the Reading Road location of Sugar n’ Spice, according to Christopher “CT” Todd, operating partner of the now 2-location eatery. “We have any number of groups and individuals who come here for breakfast (and other times) on a regular basis. Todd spoke of a group of men who come for breakfast once a week and have done so for many years. They rotate who picks up the check, taking turns as the weeks, months and years go by. It has become a tradition that is replicated at Sugar n’ Spice by many families and friends, Todd said.
See you soon at Sugar n’ Spice on Reading Road!
Sugar n' Spice Diner
4381 Reading Road
Cincinnati, OH 45229