(Writer’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories that will concentrate on the history of one of the most storied restaurant franchises in Wheeling since the 1950s.)

There were nine mandatory service steps. There was a recipe Bible. There was only one way to cook it and only one way to serve it.

It was a true empire that Boury Enterprises became by the mid-1970s, and it all began with a circus lion tamer from Beirut, Lebanon, who immigrated to the United States, got married, opened a confectionary on Main Street in 1912, and fathered three boys who would change the face of Wheeling for decades.

The history of the Boury business dates back to 1912 because that is when the father of George, Mike, and Ellis immigrated to Wheeling and opened a business.

The history of the Boury business dates back to 1912, when the father of George, Mike, and Ellis immigrated to Wheeling and opened a service shop. (Photo archived by James Thornton)

George, Ellis, and Mike Boury assisted with the transition of their father’s business as the Friendly City changed following World War II into an industrial and residential region more so than a stay-over service community for those heading to the land west of the Ohio River. Taverns with limited food options soon became eateries that served alcohol, so the brothers grew Michael Sr.’s business into a restaurant supply and service company which was still located in downtown Wheeling.

And then in 1956, Wheeling residents met the Big Boy along the same National Road their father traveled to settle there, and over the next three decades citizens in West Virginia, East Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and Maryland would experience what Elby’s Family Restaurant had evolved into since young ladies started roller skating through the parking lot of “No. 1.”

That very first Elby’s was small, but expansions soon took place for more seating and takeout service once Interstate 70 finally flowed through Wheeling Tunnel and over the Fort Henry Bridge, a span that was ready a little more than 10 years before the tunnel was completed. The goal was always fine food and friendly and fast service in an attractive atmosphere, and success of the Big Boy sandwich, a double-decker, two-burger, special-sauce and other-stuff delight, the fried chicken – with no wings included – the Brawny Swiss and Brawny Lad, the Slim Jim, the Fish & Chips, the Half-Pound O’Ground Round, and the desserts (Remember the Hot Fudge Cake and Strawberry Pie?) soon allowed the brothers to open a second, then a third, and a fourth, and fifth and on and on and on.

"No. 1" - the very first Elby's Big Boy Restaurant was located along National Road near Linsly Military Institute.

“No. 1” – the very first Elby’s Big Boy Restaurant was located along National Road near Linsly Military Institute. (Photo archived by James Thornton)

The empire included quite the diversified number of holding companies, as well as TriAD, a billboard company, and also the Hallmark-approved Gift Shops and Factory Glass Outlets. But it was Elby’s Family Restaurants, of course, that swelled the company’s coffers, allowing George, Mike, and Ellis to open a final total of 73 restaurants, hotels in Wheeling and in State College, Pa., Elmo’s Good Times Food at the Ohio Valley Mall, and first Fabulous Fanny’s, and then the Riverside Restaurant inside the former Best Western Wheeling Inn on the corner of 10th and Main streets. In 1978, Boury Enterprises employed more than 2,500.

How it happened, all of it, and the reasons why it went away more than 20 years ago will be revealed in this series of upcoming articles with the tales told by storytellers who were once busboys, hostesses, waiters, and waitresses, the short-order cooks, the managers, the ladies who floured the fish and those onion rings, and the children and relatives of those pioneers.

The rise and fall, the rumor mill, those nine steps, the recipes, and the one way to operate an Elby’s Family Restaurant are the tales that need to be told, and they will be.

The Boury brothers were very involved with the communities in which Elby's were opened, and they even sent coupons for free Big Boys to every Wheeling little league team member during the 1970-80s.

The Boury brothers were very involved with the communities in which Elby’s were opened, and they even sent coupons for free Big Boys to every Wheeling little league team member during the 1970-80s.

The Son of George

Prior to the opening of the first Elby’s, George Boury acquired land in a housing development dubbed Hawthorne Court, a few-street area boasting huge houses with pools and tennis courts, security systems, servants, and sports cars in the driveway.

George and his first wife built a house there and moved in the same year Elby’s Big Boy opened, and they soon had a second son. Their first was Michael III.

“I was told three things about 1956,” said Gregg Boury, son of George Boury. “Three big things happened in 1956. The first, Elby’s opened on National Road in Wheeling. Second, we moved into our house on Hawthorne Court. And third, I was born.

“But prior to all of that, somehow, my dad became aware of Bob Wian in California. He had invented the Big Boy sandwich, and my dad always had an infatuation with the food process,” he continued. “It amazed him for whatever reason to take a raw product and make it into a meal to put on someone’s table. And for whatever reason he loved to go to White Castle and watch them go about what they did, and I think he could have watched it for hours.”

“So he was infatuated with the ‘food factory’ concept, so to speak, but it was something that was part of him, and the Big Boy had caught his attention. He stuck with it, saw it through, and saw it become a reality here in Wheeling,” said Boury.  “My recollection was that he was relentless about that process in the restaurants, and he and his brothers made it happen here, and it was here for a lot of years.”

Gregg Boury, son of George Boury, eventually became the operations manager for Elby's Family Restaurants.

Gregg Boury, son of George Boury, eventually became the operations manager for Elby’s Family Restaurants.

Gregg’s involvement with the restaurant spanned all levels of operation, and it was not because his father forced him to begin his career at the bottom and work his own way up the corporate ladder. That training process, in fact, was already in place for any employee seeking to enter the company’s ranks of management.

“Well, my dad didn’t necessarily ascend me in the right way, and that’s because sometimes when you have a kid, you do not see some things very clearly,” Gregg said. “At one point he took me into the offices here in downtown and just told me to follow him around. and I really hated that. And I always hated wearing a tie, but he said that was part of it, too, so that’s what I did.

“Finally, I think he realized that we were going to kill each other if he didn’t get me out of that situation, so he finally put me into the management-training program, and that’s where I should have been in the first place,” he continued. “And part of that program was to wash the dishes, to wait on the tables, and to do the food prep and the cooking, and I enjoyed all of it except working with the onions for the onion rings. I really didn’t like going home smelling like that.”

Once he completed the prescribed training, Gregg’s career followed the path of growth realized by Elby’s Big Boy, a combination of a regional and a national “brand” that worked well although no one really knew what a marketing “brand” was at the time.

This image is a scan from an Elby's menu utilized during the early 1980s. The brothers were pleased with the fact that, no matter at which Elby's you patronized, a Big Boy was a Big Boy and those onion rings were the best-ever every time.

This image is a scan from an Elby’s menu utilized during the early 1980s. The brothers were pleased with the fact that no matter which Elby’s you patronized, a Big Boy was a Big Boy and those onion rings were the best-ever every time anywhere.

“I managed a couple of different restaurants until they gave me a new opening in Dublin, Ohio, and I was there for a while, but then I really started moving around a good bit to different restaurants,” Gregg recalled. “I managed in Heath, Ohio, in Columbus, Washington, Pa., here in Wheeling, in St. Clairsville, and at a lot of other locations I’m not recalling right now.

“And I did enjoy it, and everything I hear about it today is positive because so many people have so many wonderful memories of eating at an Elby’s or working at one,” he said. “Or they’ve run in the race or remember the floats, or they just remember great experiences that they miss even today.”

Elby’s quickly became known in each community as the place where Santa Claus would be outside the front door in December and as the only Wheeling restaurant that would send coupons for free Big Boys to every town’s little leaguers, enter first-class floats in holiday-related parades, and start an event that would become an international, Olympic-sanctioned showcase called the Elby’s Distance Race.

The quality of every single one of the menu items was the very first founding principle and was consistently most important to the brothers. That fact makes the next piece of evidence perhaps the most ironic bit of historical information,  and it involves why Elby’s was called Elby’s in the first place.

“It wasn’t all about naming it after my Uncle Ellis even though that makes the most sense to people because of the possible combination,” Gregg said. “The story that I was told by my dad was that they were sitting around a desk one day trying to come up with a name for the restaurant, and they were making all kinds of combinations with their names, and Ellis Boury did come up. But it just so happened that they had a bottle of simple syrup there that they sold to bars because it was a lot of what grenadine is today.

DiCarlo's Pizza now does business in the building where Boury Inc. was located for many years.

DiCarlo’s Pizza now does business in the building where Boury Inc. was located for many years. (Photo archived by James Thornton)

“The company that made that was called Elby’s, and one of them noticed it and thought it would be a great name, and because it was one of the combinations, that’s what they went with,” he said. “I don’t know if Elby’s would have been the name of it if that bottle of simple syrup had not been on that desk at the time of that particular conversation.”

Each Boury brother owned roles in this operation, and it was Mike who was in charge of the food side, Ellis who was in charge of business and negotiations, and George was the business’ bling. He was the empire’s front man from the beginning, the brother who craved the spotlight but shielded it when it was not a positive limelight. No matter what, George Boury forever sought perfection in everything he attempted.

“One story about my father’s perfectionism is the day he decided he was going to make White Castle burgers at home. He had all of the ingredients, and he even had the diced onions because he knew to put those onions on the burger so that onion flavor would cook into the meat. He also knew to put the bun on top of the onions so the onion flavor would steam up through the bun,” Gregg recalled. “And he decided that if he was going to make those little meat patties, he needed to ice his hands down so the heat from his hands wouldn’t begin to turn the meat. He would submerge is hands into ice water, and then he would make a patty for the burgers, and we were all howling at him because it seemed so funny.

“But it was just him doing something the right way as he perceived the right way, and it had to be done that way,” he continued. “Elby’s was already open at that time but that example really speaks to how my father was when it came to the food process. There was no other way other than the right way.”

While the vast majority of the former locations of Elby's have been re-purposed into everything from insurance offices to used car lots, this Big Boy Restaurant of the past still stands in Weirton.

While the vast majority of the former locations of Elby’s have been re-purposed into everything from insurance offices to used car lots, this Big Boy Restaurant of the past still stands in Weirton. (Photo by Steve Novotney)

The Big Boy Bubble Burst

Mike Boury directed traffic at three different commissaries during Elby’s history, the first in downtown, the second on 19th St. in East Wheeling next to Carenbauer Distributing, and the final facility in the enormous structure in Martins Ferry that now houses Stoney Hollow Tire. Uncle Ellis, his nephew said, was the businessman who helped orchestrate those moves but also the brother who often found himself in a peacemaking role.

“The one thing that I remember very specifically about my Uncle Mike was his ability to crunch numbers in his head. He could take a sandwich with multiple ingredients and break it down to how much it cost per ounce,” Gregg recalled. “He could walk into any restaurant and tell you what their food costs are, and to be able to do that math in his head was just amazing.

“My Uncle Ellis was the more human person in that group of brothers. He was like the buffer between my Uncle Mike and my dad until all three of them started going at each other’s throats at the end,” he continued. “Anytime your financial situation starts to go south, that happens. They were blaming my dad. My dad was blaming them. They were blaming (company general manager) Tom Johnson and everyone else they could think of. It was a real mess.”

But glory of growth came first. Not only did the brothers open new restaurants and gift shops in four different states, but they also constructed and opened a new headquarters at 1233 Main Street adjacent to Boury Inc. in 1986. Until The Health Plan constructs its new corporate headquarters within the 1100 block, the former Boury Center will stand as the last new building erected in the downtown district since 1985.

The Elby's Distance Race attracted international - and apparently intergalactic - road racers and was an Olympic Trail event beginning in the late-1970s.

The Elby’s Distance Race attracted international – and apparently intergalactic – road racers and was an Olympic Trial event beginning in the late-1970s.

The office building is now named Century Plaza, and the structure that housed the restaurant supply/appliance store now is home to DiCarlo’s Pizza. The American economy slipped and tripped at exactly the wrong time for these brothers and thus changed the attitudes of officials in the banking industry. The continued addition of restaurants was an integral part of the Boury Enterprises business plan, but bank policy changes cut off the Boury’s’ credit line.

Panic set in.

“When I get asked about why the restaurants closed, I tell them the truth. It’s documented history,” Gregg said. “There was not one particular thing that happened that forced the sale of the company, but there were a lot of things that played into that decision to sell it. One of the business mistakes that was made was the fact that all of the properties were sale-lease properties, and that required a lot of cash flow. Banks suddenly adopted the policy that the restaurants were a bad deal, and after that they would no longer finance anything.

“Without the new restaurants and the new credit lines, all three of them found themselves in a heck of a financial pinch, so they had to find someone out there,” he continued. “They could have continued on had they gone public, but my dad did not want to give up control, and yes, ego was part of the demise. He did not want to answer to a board of directors because of what he had seen happen with other companies that had gone public for that very reason. I know he feared that, all of a sudden, it wouldn’t be about what my dad and his brothers had made Elby’s to be.”

Elby's and the Big Boy sandwich were synonymous since 1956, until, that is, a lawsuit forced the Wheeling-based corporation to remove the item from the menu.

Elby’s and the Big Boy sandwich were synonymous since 1956, until, that is, a lawsuit forced the Wheeling-based corporation to remove the item from the menu. This meeting, which involved all three Boury brothers, brought the Big Boy back in the mid-1980s.

Just a few years after opening the Boury Center, Elby’s was sold to the Elias Bros. Corp. out of Warren, Mich., and the Big Boy brand covered Elby’s in every respect all the way down changing the, “Elby’s Distance Race” to the, “Big Boy Classic.”

“Quite frankly, Elias Brothers was the only company out there willing to buy the chain,” Gregg said. “That’s why they sold it to them, and at a considerable loss, of course, but by doing so, they set the demise in motion because Elias Brothers wasn’t doing the same thing that the brothers were doing.

“When I went to Detroit to see the operations of the company, it was all very impressive, but when you tasted their food, it was garbage. My Uncle Mike was absolutely relentless and particular about our food, and he was not happy. But the situation was what it was, and they made the decisions they made.”

Many of the former Elby’s locations still stand today in St. Clairsville, Cambridge, Moundsville, downtown Wheeling, New Martinsville, Pittsburgh, and Marietta. While Perkins Restaurant thrives in Elby’s original location, the Big Boy in Weirton still rests along Freedom Way intact but abandoned and eroding.

The Boury brother celebrated Elby's 30th anniversary in 1986. From left are Vice President Tom Johnson, and Mike, George, and Ellis Boury.

The Boury brothers celebrated Elby’s 30th anniversary in 1986. From left are Vice President Tom Johnson, and Mike, George, and Ellis Boury.

The remnants of the legend are something Gregg Boury has made a conscious effort to ignore since the late-80s sale.

“When they decided to sell the chain to Elias Brothers, whatever happened after that was not part of my life any longer,” Gregg said candidly. “I really drew the line there, and that’s the way I deal with it.

“I know there are restaurants out there that try to copy what we used to serve as Elby’s, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that they try to do that. I think, eventually, those recipes will die a slow death because of how the trend of nutrition is going now, but we still have many of the older people who are still around who like to remember those things, and if they can get a taste of it, that’s what they do.”

He remained in business with his father for several years after the Big Boy restaurants shuttered their doors because of the disliked tastes, experiences, and the pricing, but the Best Western Wheeling Inn and the Riverside Restaurant were not included in the sell-off. These days he finds himself in the middle of efforts involved with improving quality-of-life issues in Wheeling. One prime example is the fact he is one of the lead organizers working to make the Fitzsimmons Family Dog Park a reality by the end of this year.

“And after all of that my wife and I opened a chain of fitness centers and had those for a little more than 10 years,” Gregg explained. “I’ve also done some consulting for a few restaurants outside of this area, and I also worked for the city’s Water Department for a short time.

It was "The Downtowner Motel" and it was a mess in the late-70s, but Boury Enterprises transformed it in a lodging facility that attracted Hollywood stars Michael Keaton and Ron Howard as guests.

It was “The Downtowner Motel,” and it was a mess in the late-’70s, but Boury Enterprises transformed it into a lodging facility that even attracted Hollywood stars Michael Keaton and Ron Howard as guests.

“These days I am enjoying doing what it is I want to do, and the dog park is a no-brainer in my mind,” he said. “Wheeling is a great city, and it always has been. We have a lot here that a lot of people take for granted, but if they stop and think about it, they’ll realize it, too.”

His father was the flamboyant brother, and Gregg Boury grew up within it. Speedboats, beach villas, Cadillacs, telephones in every room of his house, a backyard pool, and a level of celebrity while living as the first son of one of the founding fathers, he admits, had its advantages.

“Free food, and I could take my friends,” he said quickly after asked the question. “That was just very cool to grow up with. That was my favorite part when I was a kid, but then later I really loved working in the restaurant industry, and I really enjoyed the fact that we always had great food that people really loved. We ran an operation that we could be proud of.

“It was a great place to work, and that was because everyone worked as a team,” Boury continued. “But the worst part was toward the end when there was a lot of in-fighting. No one was getting along, and the brothers were fighting, too. The absolute worst part was when I had to travel to Columbus with some others, and we had to tell the people in 12 restaurants that we were shutting them down. That was just horrible.”

There wasn’t a federal bailout available to the Boury brothers, and the decision to liquidate was made. They sold a dynasty they constructed from their father’s scratches, and then they had to walk away from it, then drive by it, and then George, Mike, and Ellis were forced to watch as the those letters – E-L-B-Y’s – were removed.

Michael, in 2006, was the first brother to pass away, and George followed in June 2009. Ellis, father of nine children, died in May 2013.

“It all happened. Yes it did,” Gregg Boury said. “And it was great, but then it wasn’t, and it’s a story that should be told. To this day I’m not sure why my dad and his brothers, my uncles, aren’t in the Wheeling Hall of Fame, but I guess those people decided to focus on the negatives instead of the many positives they gave this city over the years.

“That’s why this story needs to be told.”

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(Anyone wishing to share stories or photos can do so by contacting Steve at steve.novotney@weelunk.com)

57 Responses

  1. Dave Herron

    In the Fall of 1978, I had just moved to the Columbus area as an 18-year-old college student and I was privileged to have walked into the Elby’s on Brice Rd. (east of Columbus) in search of employment. My previous work as a short order cook at a large restaurant chain in the Pittsburgh area helped me land a job at Elby’s. I loved it! Not only was this place a step above in atmosphere and food quality, but it was a great place to make new friends and become an integral part of the Boury team. When I needed to transfer due to a change in residence, they went out of their way and kept me on as a cook at their restaurant out on West Broad (west Columbus). Again, I worked with great people from the Managers to busboys and waitresses.

    The food that we prepped and made to order was fresh and high quality. I remember making plates of Liver & Onions, Spaghetti dinners, Burgers, Slim Jims, Fried Chicken and so many others. Our prep cooks in back would make the soups, pies, wash and then wrap the potatoes in foil to ready for baking and other daily tasks.

    Elby’s was a fine-tuned and well oiled machine. – Customers loved the food and we loved providing such quality food with excellent service.

    We enjoyed working with each other as a team, we made a good living and on top of ALL that – we were happy! What wasn’t there to love?!

    One time, I recall one of our cooks stepping into a management role and I seem to remember hearing that a new car was being provided to new Managers as a ‘gift’. I don’t know the specifics as far as car value or what the prerequisites were, but I remember my friend suddenly driving a brand new 1979 red Trans Am! Whether the car was entirely purchased out right or a large down payment was provided, either way I think it was Elby’s way of saying, “Welcome!”

    When I saw the expansion opportunities, I had considered staying on with the company but my education took me elsewhere. With my departure in 1980, I took the Elby’s team work ethic and memories with me. It was truly one of the best of times for me and it was a simple formula that I actually miss.

    Thanks for the employment and great times Elby’s!

  2. John B.

    I worked at the 12th street restaurant in 1966. .90 an hour and$1.00 for lunch. You could get a big boy,fries and drink. Let’s see you get that now. Thanks for my first job and the lesson of what it meant to really work, and enjoy your work and the people you worked with.

    • Gae Phinney

      Elby’s w 12th wasn’t open in 1966. I was hired for the store opening after I was married in 1969 & worked there till early 71.

      • Gae Phinney

        I assume the w 12th location you mentioned was the store in Erie pa where I was. I didn’t see any other w 12th location listed.

  3. Jim Coster

    Well, I found your series of articles on Elby’s and “Boury, Inc.” very interesting – particularly because my father was right in the middle of all of it. I have two older brothers who also worked at the Moundsville Elby’s during the 1960’s.

    Around 1957, my father Edward Coster, Sr. went to work for Boury’s as a master electrician and “Television Technician” following training in the Marines in WWII and “TV” school with RCA in New York.

    My father installed all the new “electrical gadgets” that were being developed for the new “fast food” restaurants of the late 1950’s in all of the “Ohio Valley” Elby’s. One of these new ideas was the “curb service” parking lot speakers that were used to order from your car while parked in the parking lot. These were the same speakers that were used in many drive-in movies at the time. Inside the kitchen was a complex lighted display that showed all the various speaker locations. It was something like a telephone switch board. Elby’s also had an overhead speaker system for music and waitress calls. The kitchens had large commercial deep fryers; commercial gas grills and ovens and walk in freezers as well as milkshake mixers and multiple drink “fountains.” The soft drink fountains were a new item in the industry at the time and were more complex than today’s versions.

    While much of Elby’s food was pre-frozen, it was all prepared by hand for each order. And the quality of all items was much higher than what is found in “fast-food” restaurants today! Elby’s hamburgers were fresh ground beef, the lettuce and tomatoes were fresh as were the buns. The onion rings were large onion slices breaded fresh daily. Elby’s milkshakes were made “the old fashioned way” with real ice cream and milk. The pies were also baked fresh daily. It would be difficult to find any restaurant today that serves hamburgers, onion rings, milkshakes, pies, salads, fish, chicken or a number of other “dinner” items of the quality and taste that could be found on any given day, in any given Elby’s from the late 1950’s to the late 1970’s.

    There were the Elby’s restaurant stores – but there was also the downtown Wheeling “appliance store.” The appliance store did sell “retail” appliances to the general public, but a large portion of its business was commercial equipment sales and support to all of the local bars and restaurants. My father was very involved in this side of Boury’s as an installer and “repairman.” In fact, Boury’s had a fleet of repair trucks and technicians who installed and repaired equipment sold by Boury’s. Back in those days, Television sets were repairable and my father would often go to people’s homes to repair TV sets sold by Boury’s. Further, all of the Wheeling bars had bar equipment purchased from Boury’s. One of the more famous Wheeling establishments was “Earnie’s Esquire Club” which was a “high end” dining restaurant. Earnies was very closely involved with Boury’s.

    My father was often called out late at night for “service calls” to the various Elby’s restaurants. And he was often sent to various bars by Boury’s for various service calls. My father also ran personal errands for the Boury brothers “for various reasons.” My father knew a great deal about a lot of “business” relationships the Boury brothers had. Without going into specific details – which would serve no purpose now in the year 2016 – suffice it to say that Wheeling, W.Va. was a VERY interesting place from the 1930’s through the 1980’s. Perhaps someday, someone will write a comprehensive account of the complex relationships and actions of various government officials, business and banking leaders and “law enforcement” in the Ohio Valley post WWII. My father would often talk about a lot of interesting relationships various “known” Wheeling actors had with one another.

    In many ways, the “old” Wheeling was a “wide open” wild-west town. It was a different time back then in so many ways. In 1962, not only could you get a lunch at the Elby’s at “12th and Chaplain” of a quality and price that could not be found anywhere today, once you walked out onto Chaplain Street, you would find social mores and behavior that can no longer be found in Wheeling now – nor will ever be found again in the future.

  4. Victor Perilli

    I worked for Boury Inc(A few months)as a Salesman at the (Wheeling) Main St Location. $80.00 Salary Per Week+10% Commission on Bar&Restaraunt Equipment 5% Commision on Appliances. Other Salesmen were Walter Reuther, Dwayne Chambers, Mark Matz. Mark was a School Teacher and only worked during the Summer. Mr. Carney was the Store Mgr. Reuther referred to Carney(among Sales Reps) as “KarNak” The Johnny Carson Character that Johnny portrayed on The Tonight Show with Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen and His orchestra. It was a good experience working For Boury Inc and I enjoyed it immensely!

  5. Mary Moffitt

    Hi Steve , I worked for the Bourys for 44 years at Elby’s. I started at Elby’s at national road, I believe it was around October 22 1956. I started 2. Or 3 before they opened.

  6. Karen Krpan

    I spent my high school years baby sitting for Ellis and Jackie at their Oak Park home. At the time they had 8 children. In 1964 l left Wheeling and lost contact with the family. I still have the Big Boy charm bracelet they gave me. Even have curls of DeeDee’s first haircut. Lots of good memories. When Grandpa Boury would visit he would tell stories of his life And give good advice to a 15 year old girl.

  7. Walter and Katie Smith

    Wonderful story worked for Mike and Maryann in the Bloomsburg store started as a waitress and moved up to a manager I met my best friend the first day I started and he was the manager there Years later we are married also They were some of the best years of our lives and for sure the best job we ever had and the best staff ever especially Mike and Maryann Thank you for the story looking forward to more Wally and Katie Smith P.S Made several attempts to go back in the restaurant business but when you work for the BEST you can’t go back

  8. Jay D

    Ellis’s son graduated in my class at Wheeling Central… Good guy. BTW: Does Gregg Boury know that his old picture is a true doppelganger for Mitch Hedberg? LOL!

  9. Tim Pelley

    I worked at Elby’s on National Road during my Triadelphia High school years. But here is what led to that. From 12 years old to 14 years old I was a caddie at Oglebay Park. I caddied for Mike and Ellis but Ellis really liked me and would ask for me every time he came to play golf. When I turned 15 I walked right in to Ellis’s office and said “Mr. Boury, I am now 15 and too old for caddie camp and I need a job.” He called Betty Voellinger (manager at the time) and said “I’m sending someone down and hire him on the spot.” I started as a dishwasher and moved up to kitchen manager. Now I am retired and back working at the golf course at Oglebay. My memories of Elby’s will last a lifetime.

  10. Kathie Vanyo Clayton

    One of my wonderful childhood memories was when my mom and dad took us (all 5 kids) to Elby’s for dinner. We ate in the car, having ordered our food through the speaker. Even now, every time I pass a Sonic and see those speakers, the memories of Elby’s and living in Wheeling come back…..

    • Jay D

      The thing to do was sit in your car at the Woodsdale Elby’s under the metal canopy in the late ’60’s. Everyone watched the constant parade of muscle cars circling over and over between there and the Burger Chef a short distance East on National Road. You knew almost every driver and his car and the deep burble of the souped up engines and Cheery Bomb mufflers made the whole lot throb and vibrate. People back then would not begin to believe what those same cars would be worth now.

    • Lynette Boyles

      My very first job while attending high school. Worked at the location in Williamsport, PA on the Golden Strip for Michael Boury III. I was also the babysitter for Mike & MaryAnn’s 3 daughters: Stacey, Amanda (Mandy), and Michelle, as well as the foster children they had at the time. Also house sat while they were away on vacations. There was nothing better or that could compare to the Love, Kindness, and Trust that Mike & MaryAnn showed to me while employed. Stacey, Amanda, and Michelle and I had many great times together as I would be driving the Boury van, station wagon, or whichever vehicle they had me drive the girls in as they loved listening to the 1970’s group Styx and songs like Mr. Roboto, Cold War, Don’t let it end to name a few. We even baked Christmas Cookies with Edie Burney and myself. I could go on forever with the fond memories we shared. I even got to give their Minature Schnauzer dog named Cinder short for Cinderella to my mother for an Easter present one year as she loved this dog and our family had lost our dog and the girls had gotten a new addition to the Boury family of a Cocker Spaniel and a little jealousy was shown and Amanda was bitten by Cinder so needless to say Michael would not tolerate one of his girls being bitten and I would have taken Cinder, though Edie Burney my landlord at the time would not allow me to have a dog, only a cat. So off to my parents with Cinder sitting in a Big Easter Basket with Easter grass, plastic eggs, and a Bow on top as I sneaked my way to the front door with her as I whispered for her to stay and rang the doorbell to my house as I watched my mom’s delight of her gift of Love from around the corner of our house. Thank you Elby’s and The Boury Family for such wonderful and cherished memories that will forever have a special place within my heart!❤️

  11. Liz Hurst

    What a wonderful story. I lived not far from Hawthorn Court and remember when Elby’s opened. Enjoyed many a night going there after a basketball game at Linsley. Great hamburgers and strawberry pie.

  12. Paul Smathers

    When I was Executive Director of DWA I worked closely with George. He was dedicated to downtown Wheeling’s success. Not only were they responsible for the distance race, but they were among the biggest contributors to the Christmas parade and July 4th celebrations. If I needed money to do anything downtown all I needed to do was talk to George.

  13. Brad Kolling

    Great piece !! Elby’s was a huge part of my life . Started at #507 Latrobe Pa. May of 1982 as a 17 year old the third member of my family to work for the company, 4 sisters , mom , 2 brothers in law and my wife whom I met on the 1st day of training. I started as a bus boy , moved to short order cook and 5 years later Manager working at stores all over the area, Monroeville, all three Greensburg stores then finally my last move back to Latrobe before leaving the restaurant industry in 1994. The Elby’s way will never be duplicated , the attention to details, from recipes to employee training , appearance of the stores to the iconic huge American flag. The personal way that company executives treated everyone from manager to busboy .I was one manager out of 60 or 70 stores and you receive a call from Tom Johnson and he asked how you are doing and asked about Stacey ( my wife ) by name and how old my daughter was now , amazing that he knew that much about me. Watching the fall of Elby’s was very hard, after Elias took over you knew the end was near, the personal contact became calls to Michigan and all the wanted was your social security number , didn’t need your name nor didn’t care what your name was .That was just the start , the food was the biggest drop! Quality became unimportant and the Recipe Bible no longer needed, everything came in in bags or cartons , and it tasted like it !! No regrets, 12 years of service, still married 29 years to the salad prep I met on my 1st day !! Once or twice a year Stacey and I take our 2 hour drive down rt 70 to TJ’s Sports Garden to feed our bellies and our memories with a Slam Jam or Mt’neer miss . Elby’s may be gone but will live forever in our hearts , great food, great service, great memories !!!

    • Sharon Barnes

      All so true. Started in 71 out of high school. Worked my way up to GM. Worked until they closed us up by Michigan corp. Loved the Boury’s and Tom Johnson. Continued in the restaurant business until retirement.

    • Anonymous

      Love this story Brad. Reminds me of my parents. My dad, Michael Boury III met my mom at Elby’s too. He was managing and she was a waitress. I too have to make a trip to TJ’s when I’m in Wheeling for the Slim Jim, cole slaw, and hit fudge cake. Oh the memories!

  14. Diane Bonyak

    Dear Steve, I worked at the New Martinsville location all through high school, college and afterwards…11 years from 1977 to 1988 until I moved out of state. Can’t wait for the next installment! Oh and the NM location was torn down about 10 years ago and an Arby’s built in it’s place.

  15. Marilyn Lenhart

    I worked at the Elbys Big Boy, In south Greensburg Pa. From 1988 till they sold the property to McDonald’s Resturant. I was heart broken. I loved that job. That was the only job I ever truly loved. I really wish they would open another one in my area, alot of people in this area miss that resturant. I would be proud to work there.

  16. Jay D

    My parents, when older, enjoyed going to Elby’s a lot. My dad especially loved the desserts and the strawberry pie in particular. He looked forward to that sweet treat and coffee to finish his meals there and considered himself an aficionado of the menu item. Once when he took a bite of his pie the “size” (too big) of the strawberries didn’t meet his expected standards. He wasn’t a complainer by nature but more of a controlling perfectionist when it came to his sweet tooth. He asked to see the manager and the poor guy patiently listened to dad while my father gently lectured him on how to properly slice the strawberries to the perfect size to put in the pies…while the rest of us at the table were laughing with our face in our hands.
    I don’t know of many other places that hold so many great memories of growing up through senior moments.

  17. Rochambeau

    It was a smart move to name the restaurant “Elby’s”. Every business is bound to fail sooner or later, and if you name any business after yourself, especially a highly leveraged restaurant chain, it’s probably only a matter of time before the sign with your name on it is overlooking a boarded-up dump with weeds in the parking lot. Best to keep the name at arm’s length with something like Elby’s, or Rax, or Enron and not make the Lehman Brothers’ mistake.

  18. Cherie Manzano

    Great story! Brought back many very nice memories. Since there is no more Elby’s, I’d like to ask about that recipe bible…would the Boury’s mind sharing some of those with people for their own personal use if we privately request? We really miss Elby’s food. Can you ask, please, Mr. Novotny? I have no connections with any kind of food business and I’d gladly sign a confidentiality contract.

  19. Paul DeFelice

    I found it interesting that in 1978, Boury Enterprises employed over 2,500 people. I was one of them, working in the stockroom at the Factory Glass Outlet as a 17 year old. Great read.

    • Debbie LaBrosse Hart

      I was also one of the 2500 in 1979. I was 19. I worked at the downtown restaurant supply/appliance store in the credit department. We took turns running the big swtchboard as part of our duties in the credit department. Working the switchboard during the annual Christmas party was always fun. Worked with Jim Carney, Bob Imhoff and Tom Kidney. Interacted with all three Boury brothers but especially remember the kindness of Ellis Boury.

      Enjoyed the article very much…brought back a lot of good

  20. Mark Stullenburger

    As a young lad, I loved going to Elby’s with my family and eating a Brawny Lad and chocolate milkshake, each and every time. In the late 1950’s Johnny Weismuller (aka Tarzan), movie star and Olympic swimmer, made a celebrity appearance at the Elby’s on the National Road, (in Woodsdale), Wheeling. He sat outside at one of the Elby’s style picnic tables and autographed photos of himself. I was thrilled to be there, meet him and get his autographed picture.

  21. Alan Ramsey

    If you get a chance, check out the book
    “King Of Them All” by Christian Hansen,
    who was Bob Wian’s PR man during Big
    Boy’s rise to national prominence. Elby’s
    is only mentioned by name, but there are
    some cool Elby’s related pictures in the book,
    such as Bob Wian’s being greeted by Elby’s
    employees holding signs, Johnny Weismuller
    at the National Road location, and a picture
    of one of the Big Boy statues that fell off of a
    truck, underneath the Ft. Henry approach to
    the Wheeling Tunnel. It’s also a good read to
    find out what led to the decline of Big Boy
    as a national chain. One fun fact I learned
    was that Shoney’s Alex Schoenbaum was a real
    PITA to Wian, who never was able to control his
    franchisees, which led his selling the rights to the
    chain to Marriott in the 1960’s

    • Robert Thomas

      I agree, though the book which was privately printed is hard to find now. Try eBay. I didn’t recognize that truck/fallen statue pic being in Wheeling. Thanks.

      I spoke to Hansen once and he spoke very highly of the Boury’s. He remembered that the Boury’s threw a parade for Bob Wian during his national tour of the franchises in ’65. (I think there was some schmoozing going for more territory as Elby’s had saturated their original northern panhandle territory, and the next year Elby’s moved into Pennsylvania and Ohio.) Anyway Wian was impressed with Elby’s and he and the Bourys seemed to share the same ideas about quality. Ironically it was Schoenbaum who subfranchised to Elby’s. Elby’s WV store were technically Shoney’s, just like the Ohio stores (when they were Big Boys) were technically Frisch’s. The Frisch’s fiasco & litigation is another issue not mentioned above…

      I really enjoy the article. Thanks Steve and Gregg.

      — a former busboy and short order cook

      • Beverly Campbell

        Not true. I worked at Elbys in Dublin for five years. We were always Elbys until we were sold. Then the name changed to shoneys. They were not open long after that. Sat empty for years. A few other restaurants tried after that. Do not know what’s in there now if even still there. Frisches sucks food is so bland! Elbys was the best!

  22. John

    Hi Steve,
    Greater story, and it brings back memories. Are you by chance related to an Ed Novotney, who if memory serves, worked at Boury Inc in Wheeling? I used to manage a few locations back in the 1970’s. Trained in St Clairsville, managed the Steubenville store (not the mall store), and ended up in Columbus for the expansion there. I am from Weirton, and drive past the store whenever I return to visit.

    • Steve Novotney

      John – Ed Novotney is my father, and I and my brother both worked for the company, as well. John worked the commissary and I did everything from busboy to waiter, short order, and I even donned the Big Boy suit several times during high school and college.

      Thank you for your kind comments, and please let me know if you would like to assist me with future stories. My email address is at the end of Part 1.

      • Chuck loy

        I knew your name was familiar I worked at boury’s store from 1985 to around 1990 and I remember hearing you fathers name.

  23. Dan Slentz

    What a fascinating story! Loved our Elby’s in Dover, Ohio. Ate there many, many times as a kid. Fish & Chips in a basket with a fake newspaper lining. And nothing better than their chocolate cream pie (but followed closely by their hot fudge cake). Thanks to the writer and family for sharing the story.

    • Cherie Manzano

      Those were my favorites too! I always ordered those items there. I wish they would tell people exactly how they were made and where to find that kind of fish. I’ve never seen anything like it since. Most of us would like to be able to make these items for our own home. I hope the Boury’s wouldn’t mind sharing their recipes since there isn’t a place to purchase this food anymore.

  24. kmoses

    Why is there no mention of Robert O. Burton (designer) who introduced the Boury’s to Bob Wian and also designed most the Elby’s Big Boy restaurants and some of the Shoney’s Big Boy restaurants ?

    • Robert Thomas

      And some of the Marc’s Big Boys in Wisconsin+, Azar’s Big Boys in Indiana, Abdow’s Big Boys in Massachusetts+, Tops Big Boys in Illinois and Ken’s Big Boys in the DC suburbs. (Am I missing any?) Armet & Davis, a California firm known for googie, did designs for Bob’s, JB’s, Kip’s, some Frisch’s, some Azar’s, and Elias Bros & Vip’s I think. Eat’n Park hired Pittsburgh area architects. Any way to get a copy of those Burton plans that I could use to make an AutoCAD 3-D model?

      Hansen told me that Alex Schoenbaum made the intro to Bob Wian.

  25. Donnie

    There is good and bad with every story of a business empire. That said a part that sticks with me is that the brothers are not in the Wheeling Hall of Fame. I’m not sure I can think of a family more prominent in Wheeling History from the 60s to the 80s…once again good or bad at this point we should be focusing on the good.

  26. Ruth Ann Toxie

    Back in the day I worked at the tennis courts at Oglebay. Mike was a good player and liked a front court when he played with his buddies but when he played with Elias I knew not to place them on a front court. My payback, he would bring me a Slim Jim for lunch.

  27. Lori tobin

    I worked at the Ohio valley mall right from 1980 till the very end. Was ready to go to work and got a call to come out and get my belongings or what ever I needed. We were shutting down. 20 years and that’s how it ended. Loved that job. I went to a small family owned place in bellaire that has a very similar work ethic.

  28. Mary

    My cousin, actually my mother’s cousin, Gertrude Duke Worley, did the TV commercials for Elbys back in the day. She was so beautiful and still is, living in Gehanna. I catch her here on FB now and again. I would love it if you would include video of her commercials.

  29. Steve Rodocker

    I worked for the Boury’s between my time in the Navy and starting at the Post Office. I had heard all the stories about the three brothers but working in the store on Main St. I got to meet the brothers first hand. I found them to return loyalty with loyality. Yes they were bussinessmen first, but i learned a lot of what was said about them was from spite not fact. I worked with Greg there and agree with him i dont know why the brothers arnt in the Wheeling HoF they should be.

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