April 19, 2012

Finding Reeb's Restaurant in the 1940 Census

Lately I’ve been busy indexing batches of the 1940 U.S. census from Franklin County, Ohio. It’s been fun to recognize some of the streets, as well as some of the surnames, from my hometown. I hadn’t actually tried to find any members of my family, though, until late the other night, when I decided to look for my paternal grandparents.

Edward Reeb
But before I found them, I found someone else first. And that person, Ed Reeb, is a man who profoundly affected my family’s life.

Edward F. Reeb was born in Columbus in 1880, the son of Alsace-Lorraine immigrant Henry Reeb and his wife, Pauline Lockenbach.(1) In 1911, he opened Reeb’s Restaurant at the corner of Champion and Livingston Avenues. It served draft beer, hot sandwiches, and hearty German dishes to hordes of hungry businessmen, politicians, and neighborhood families.

Reeb’s was hit hard by the double whammy of Prohibition and the Great Depression in the 1920’s and 30’s. My grandfather, Lloyd Ballenger, came on board in time to see Prohibition repealed in December 1933. Soon Lloyd was helping run the place from his usual spot behind the counter. Ed Reeb always attributed the restaurant’s survival during these hard times to his loyal customers and dedicated employees.

Reeb's Restaurant in the 1940's 
By 1940, the tide was beginning to turn on the Depression, and Reeb’s had established itself as a popular Columbus eatery and watering hole. And so as I began browsing the census records for the near east side, I found Ed Reeb living in an apartment above the restaurant. He was 60 years old and widowed. His sister Mollie Schneider, 72 years old and also widowed, was living with him.(2)

The census enumerator apparently turned the corner at Reeb’s, went down one side of Champion Ave. and back up the other before resuming his canvassing on E. Livingston Ave. My grandparents Lloyd and Nora Ballenger are found there, a couple of pages later, living in an apartment with their infant son above Resch’s Bakery. The Resch family also had close ties to Reeb’s and the Ballengers. They provided the crusty dinner rolls, melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts, and other baked goods for the restaurant throughout its existence, and were lifelong friends of my grandparents.

This is the last census in which Ed Reeb appears. He died March 2, 1943 of prostrate cancer at that same apartment. He and his wife, Estella, did not have children, and in his estate he left his beloved restaurant to four trusted employees. One of these was Lloyd Ballenger. Lloyd and his son, named after Reeb, bought the others out over time. In 1983, Lloyd celebrated his 50th anniversary as employee-turned-owner of Reeb’s Restaurant.

Lloyd Ballenger with his son in 1940
As researchers, we’re encouraged to look at our family’s friends, associates, and neighbors to increase our understanding of their lives. My little excursion into my grandparents’ 1940 neighborhood has driven home that point to me. Ed Reeb, the Resch family, and the Ballenger family were intrinsically connected through the restaurant that stood at 1041 E. Livingston Ave. Even though I never had the chance to meet Ed Reeb, in a way I grew up in his shadow, playing games with my brother around the booths of the restaurant he created and exploring the subterranean coolers and prep kitchen. My first job was cranking hand-cut onion rings and fresh shrimp through the breading machine.

I didn’t realize before I started that poking around in census records made two decades before I was even born would trigger such strong memories. Reeb’s Restaurant is gone now, a victim of inner city decay. So it’s up to me and others who remember to record and preserve its place in history.

Copyright 2012, Shelley Bishop. All rights reserved.


(1) “Ohio Deaths 1908-1953,” digital image, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org: accessed 17 April 2012), death certificate no. 16002, Edward F. Reeb (1943); citing original records, Ohio Department of Health, held by Ohio Historical Society, Columbus; FHL microfilm no. 2,024,127.

(2) 1940 U.S. census, Columbus Ward 3, Franklin County, Ohio, population schedule, E.D. 93-44, sheet 4A, household 67, Edw. F. Reeb; digital image (beta), Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 17 April 2012); from original records, National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm publication T627.

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  1. Lovely post, Shelley! Perhaps I'm especially susceptible to restaurant stories having just eaten my first meal at the boyfriend's pub & grill (it was good!), but this made my toes wiggle! Just loved it.

    1. Thanks, Susan. Reeb's was such a big part of my life that it's taken me awhile to write about it--it's hard to know where to start! I guess the census release gave me the starting point I needed.

  2. What a terrific walk down memory lane! Great post Shelley!

  3. Shelley, thanks for the tour down memory lane. Although I don't personally remember those places, I bet my mother and her family would. It must be by osmosis that I vaguely remember the name Reeb's from my trips back to Columbus to visit family.

    Wonderful post!

    1. If you ever get the chance to ask your mother and her family about Reeb's, I'd love to hear what they remember about it, Jacqi. Please let me know!

  4. This was such an interesting post, Shelley. It was a pleasure to read your personal memories. It made me wish I'd lived in Columbus 20 years before I arrived so I could have gone to Reeb's. And this is such a great example of why we should look at neighbors of our families in the census.

    1. Thanks, Nancy, I appreciate you letting me know you enjoyed it. And I agree about the neighbors--this made me realize how connected they were to my family's lives.

  5. Agree, a fascinating post, well written. CLAP CLAP CLAP.

  6. I love this post! My grandfather rented space for his store from Ed Reeb from around 1912 to his death in 1960. My g-pa was William Ayres, and his store was called The Ayres Variety Store. When Grandpa died, his store space became the large dining room at Reeb's. I remember learning that Mr. Reeb was responsible for saving our family store during the depression. Grandpa said that there were days when he wouldn't sell more than 25 cents, and he told Mr. Reeb he was going to have to close up shop. Mr. Reeb replied that if the store went out of business it would reflect badly on his business, so he waived grandpa's rent until times improved. When the new dinging room opened, it featured a picture of the store front next to Reeb's as an homage to my grandfather. How I wish I had that picture now.

  7. I just wanted to thank you for this wonderful trip down memory lane. My Grandfather took me to Reeb's every Friday or Saturday for dinner. We always ordered 1/2 order of onion rings to share as an appitizer. Do you have the recipe for the cole slaw? The cole slaw was unique sweet and tart dressing that I have never had since.
    Thank you again for sharing!


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