Monday, October 10, 2016

[Suburbia Lost] Dessert Options - West Chester, Ohio

West Chester, Ohio has one of the region's most iconic ice cream stands. It also has three abandoned competitors.

- "The Cone. "

In the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester, there's really only one place to go get ice cream: "The Cone." Regularly ranked as "Cincinnati's Best Soft Serve Ice Cream," The Cone is an icon throughout the Cincinnati area. If you find yourself in West Chester looking for ice cream, it's the place to stop, illustrated by several lines up front and a winding road of cars waiting for the drive-through. It's a seasonal operation though, closing in the Fall and returning in The Spring, anchored by the building from where the name is derived. You would think having some downtime would possibly allow a few other competitors to sneak in and peddle desserts to the suburban community off of I-75. Yet, in today's entry to this project we have three dessert dealing locations that couldn't quite make it work.

Ritter's Frozen Custard:

The Ritters Custard company traces its routes back to John Ritter, who the company says once had an after school job in a local ice cream shop. He apparently loved...
"...getting to eat ice cream just out of the machine—before it had been packed and frozen solid. The experience of tasting smooth, creamy, fresh-made ice cream made an indelible impression on young John."
After serving in the Navy, marrying, starting a family, and working in animation production, John retired and set out to start his own ice cream shop. The first Ritter's Frozen Custard opened in Franklin, Indiana in 1989.

The company grew under family ownership, but saw some turmoil in the early 2000's. Some said it grew too fast, peaking at about 60 franchises in 2005. Eventually, the family sold the company to TruFoods, a company that specializes in trying to turn around faltering brands. The company still exists today, but despite some financial success, this West Chester location off of 747 closed in 2009.

Like many other fast food buildings in this documentary project, Ritter's had a distinct design. Many of them were circular, while others such as the one seen here were rectangular. Typically, they were of a modular design and standalone from other businesses. If you want to open up a frozen custard stand in West Chester, there's a perfect building for you, sign and all.

Bruester's Ice Cream and Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs:

There's really not much to differentiate Bruester's from the aforementioned Ritter's. While technically one specialized in frozen custard and the other in ice cream/frozen yogurt, the principle was the same: premium desserts from a walkup window (or drive-through) with plenty of seating outside. Like Ritter's, Bruester's also started in 1989 as the idea of a man who had a positive childhood experience in the ice cream/restaurant businesss.

Bruester's still exists, with two still in the Cincinnati market. If you're interested in trying it, you can travel to a standalone location in Florence, KY or if you're a fan of pseudo-science, but also have a sweet tooth, you can grab a few scoops within the Creation Museum.

Several locations, like the abandoned one in West Chester, are also partnered with Nathan's hot dog franchises. Bruester's differed from its nearby abandoned brother (Ritter's) in that it offered a full food menu on top of ice cream.

Nevertheless, both high end ice cream parlors sit abandoned, Breuster's having closed at some point in 2014/15.

Steak 'n Shake

It's a point that gets brought up a lot in these photographs of abandoned suburban locations: what, if anything, can you do with these buildings? So many chains and brands construct their locations as distinct, recognizable structures. Even when you board them up, paint over them, or re-open them as something else - you can still tell what they used to be. The Onion was on point about this concept in their 2000 article: "You Can Tell Area Bank Used to Be a Pizza Hut."

This former Steak 'n Shake off of Tylersville Rd. leaves nothing to the imagination.

Known for their steak burgers and milkshakes, the chain is still very prominent today. Utilizing a simple color scheme, Steak `n Shake is incredibly popular with high school kids who aren't old enough to drink or don't have friends who can supply them with copious amounts of Bud Light. Open 24 hours, you'll typically find some poor waiter or waitress getting stiffed on a tip by some local teens with nothing better to do and nowhere to go.

Look, I'm not picky when it comes to fast food, but Steak 'n Shake is a chain I can't stand. The half hearted American diner theme and the high prices for food on par with McDonald's just never appealed to me. The best value meal this company might have ever offered was a seven-patty burger with seven slices of cheese for $7.77.

I ate once.

I'm not proud of it.

If you're looking to enjoy Steak 'n Shake, you'll still find them all throughout the suburban landscape.

If you've got a hot business idea that requires a Steak 'n Shake style building, I can point you in the right direction.

Suburbia Lost is an ongoing documentation of decay in the sphere of a perceived paradise. After years of photographing abandoned, forgotten, and often historical locations in the city, this project aims to take a look at how structures fare in the sphere of suburbia. You can view other entires in the project, here


  1. Great post! When you brought up Pizza hut and the onion I immediately thought of a great blog that is very self explanatory. In the rare case that you or your loyal readers have not seen it. It's great!


    1. I love that blog, but totally forgot to mention it. Such a good website. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Menchies Frozen Yogurt is still in West Chester off of 747 but it's in the spot where there used to be a Carvel's Ice Cream that went out of business.

    1. Ah yes, Menchie's. Had no idea it used to be a Carvel's. I actually live not far from that Menchie's. It's always sticky.

  3. In college I talked my friends into trying a "pizza burger" at the Steak n Shake in Beechmont. We decided that nothing would go better with the pizza burgers than Wiedemann, and bought a 12-pak at the gas station across the street. This particular SnS location had an outdoor bench where we ate our lunch and as we were eating, a Hamilton County deputy pulled in. He asked if we were old enough to drink, and in 1981 at age 19, we were. He laughed and said "Enjoy your lunch." The Wiedemann tasted like Wiedemann. The Pizza Burgers were not very good.

    1. haha, even just the thought of a "pizza burger" sounds awful. There's a place in Clifton called "French Fry Heaven" that serves huge portions of fries and one of the toppings options is pizza. They're food isn't bad, but the pizza one is gross.

      Thanks for sharing that story! Interestingly enough, I need to go find some Wiedemann to go with a story posting next week...

  4. I believe that the Steak N Shake location was closed because they built one at the Streets of West Chester.

    1. I forgot that one was over there. It's about as memorable as the Tylersville one.