Can you imagine the menu from your favorite childhood restaurant? Does it conjure up memories and have your go-to order?
While they can seem almost ubiquitous in our day-to-day life, restaurant menus are a type of historical document. They show what types of food communities had access to, how much going out to eat cost, and simply, what kinds of food people liked to eat. Foods and styles of dining go in and out of style. For example, jello is not offered at restaurants as much today as it was in the early to mid-20th century…but you would also be hard-pressed to find anything matcha-flavored on a 1940s Wheeling menu.
Today, the Ohio County Public Library Archives preserves these menus as historical documents for future generations and communities to understand daily life in the past. Pull up a chair and check out a few Wheeling menus of the past to marvel at (and question) the food history of your favorite restaurants.
Stone & Thomas Tea Room
The first menu on this list is certainly recognizable…but maybe not for its tea room or dining. Stone & Thomas was a large department store that commanded a presence in downtown Wheeling. It started in 1847 when Jacob Thomas and Elijah Stone opened their store in Wheeling—over the next century, it became a chain across West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia.
So, why is there a menu for a department store? Think tea rooms as the first food courts—they gave customers a place to rest and rejuvenate in the middle of a busy shopping trip. Otherwise, tired and hungry shoppers might leave the department store in search of sustenance…but not return to spend more money. The Stone & Thomas Tea Room offered light bites, salads, and sandwiches in addition to drinks and desserts (marketed as “a taste of paradise”). They served breakfast all day and if you wanted to stay local with your food choices, you could even order a Coleman’s Fish Sandwich—a Wheeling staple from down the road in Center Market.
Zeller’s Steak House
During the mid-20th century, Zeller’s Steak House operated at 1429 Market Street, marketing to a middle-class clientele. The restaurant gained notoriety for its famous owner, William “Big Bill” Lias—one of the most remembered crime bosses in Wheeling’s history. A legitimate restaurant on the first floor, the second floor was host to a gambling casino.
Zeller’s menu offers the classics commonly found at a steak restaurant like a T-bone steak and “French Fried” potatoes. There are a few surprises, however, like Chicken or Turkey Chow Mein listed with the specials. Today, the 1400 block of Market Street—including Zeller’s former building—is currently being revitalized by developers after years of neglect.
Even though it only operated for about five years, Love’s Restaurant’s menu was the result of “years of careful study and Tried recipes.” Located in the heart of Elm Grove at 2212 National Road, Love’s Restaurant fed the neighborhood from 1953 to about 1958.
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Right as the first large fast-food franchises were hitting the ground, Love’s boasted 24-hour service and promised to “make every effort to have in stock all menu items.” Their menu offered generic diner food—including lots of sandwich and salad options. At the same time, it was playful with creative names like “Loveberger” and “Loveway Eggs.” This particular menu has a very human element—someone handwrote the prices for every item and crossed out the dishes they had run out of.
Adding to a long and rich immigrant history in Wheeling, Rose Fadoul opened the Lebanon Bakery in 1959 at the edge of the Center Market neighborhood. Lebanese immigrants began arriving in Wheeling in the mid-19th century; they established communities, families, and a church. Restaurants like the Fadoul family’s Lebanon Bakery provided a spot to gather, a place to sustain their culture, and a taste of home. When this picture was taken in the 1980s, Lebanon Bakery was selling Middle Eastern classics like pita, zatta (zaatar) bread, meat and spinach pies, and more.
This is the only menu on our list that features a person—Ray Fadoul, a member of the family that started Lebanon Bakery. Menus provide a snapshot of the food and prices of a particular time, but the inclusion of a person reminds us of the hard work, camaraderie, relationships, and community that are baked into every local restaurant.
One of the longest-lasting restaurants on this list, Lebanon Bakery was a Wheeling favorite—residents continue to reminisce about the bakery for years after it closed in August 2017, after 58 years of business. The building that customers flocked to for Lebanese food is now home to Sarah’s on Main, a new generation of delicious food in Wheeling.
These are just a few menus from the many restaurants throughout Wheeling’s history. Restaurants come and go over time, but menus remind us of special occasions, favorite meals, or just days we did not want to do dishes. In addition, they are evidence of a community coming together—restaurant owners, hosts, bartenders, servers, dishwashers, and diners.
Which current local restaurant’s menu would you save as a snapshot of Wheeling’s history for future diners?
For more Wheeling menus and historical documents and photographs, check out the Ohio County Public Library’s Flickr page, click here.
• Emma Wiley, originally from Falls Church, Virginia, was a former AmeriCorps member with Wheeling Heritage. Emma has a B.A. in history from Vassar College and is passionate about connecting communities, history, and social justice.