News: 'Cheers' for Over-the-Rhine

Tucker's Restaurant celebrates 60 years

Jon Hughes

Maynie Tucker is known to customers as Mom.

Where to find 86-year-old Maynie Tucker 60 years after she first opened the eponymous restaurant?

"You just have to say, 'Hey, Mom, come on out,' " says Brian Muldoon, who — like many of Maynie's kin — isn't related by blood. "She's back in the kitchen doing dishes and peeling potatoes."

He's right. Maynie Tucker is in the back room of the umpth incarnation of Tucker's Restaurant, whose first location opened 60 years ago this month.

She emerges as a petite woman with eerily direct eyes and white hair in soft, natural ringlets around her ears. It's spelled "Maynie" but pronounced "Mayna" in her Appalachian heritage via Somerset, Ky. She's all business but awkwardly making nice to the reporter for the sake of her son Joe and daughter-in-law Carla, both of whom watch as they take care of a dozen customers from no more than 10 feet away.

At noon Sept. 19 — 60 years to the day — Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory will present the Tucker matriarch a key to the city. Surely she has some sound bites in her pocket.

"I'm OK," she says in answer to the reporter's first question.

"I'm busy."

Then she waits impatiently for the next question with obvious answers.

For friends, by friends
Maynie first opened Tucker's with her late husband, E.G., on 13th Street. For a time they split duties running two restaurants in Over-the-Rhine and even did a couple stints south of Central Parkway.

This Tucker's opened its present location at 1637 Vine in 1957, while a quieter one on 13th Street has been in the hands of Maynie's first son, Bob, since E.G. died in 2004.

Joe and Carla, both 48, now run the daily operation of Tucker's Restaurant on Vine Street. That means taking, cooking, serving, ringing out and bussing all food orders.

"We've worked like 15 inches apart from each other for 26 years," Carla says. "It has its moments."

"It has benefits," Joe adds quickly.

To celebrate all of them under the larger umbrella of Tucker's, Muldoon is chairing the committee to throw the Tucker's Restaurant 60th Birthday Bash and Benefit from 8 p.m. to closing Saturday at The Greenwich.

A $10 admission includes birthday cake, donated by the Tuckers' friends at Take the Cake on Main Street; food made by friends (Joe and Carla have been specifically and repeatedly barred from any work toward the event); a champagne toast and performances by their friends, including MercuroChrome, Fairmount Girls, (in)camera, Lagniappe and stand-up comic DJ Al Catone.

The first 250 in the door also will receive a memento CD designed by friends at Envoi Design, featuring original work by the Tuckers' friends from local bands such as Ruby Vileos, Chalk, Campfire Crush, Staggering Statistics, Lesniak & Rohs, The Wolverton Brothers and Tonefarmer. The CD was produced by a friend so immediately recognizable he asked that his name not be used.

The theme is unmistakable. Maybe it's because they've spent a quarter century treating community members like friends and their friends like family.

"It's not a place where you sit down by yourself," Carla says. "It's like a family dinner. We talk to everybody and introduce them to each other." She laughs. "Some people say we talk too much: 'Just cook your food and quit your talking.' "

But it was the community they'd built that pulled the Tucker family through the loss last year of Joe and Carla's 7-week-old grandson due to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Celebrity chef Jean-Robert de Cavel, whose own daughter died of SIDS, gave the Tuckers his number to call any time, day or night. Friends pulled together a benefit party last year to give the Tuckers a break and time to grieve.

All proceeds from this year's bash go to the Sudden Infant Death Network of Ohio in memory of Adam Tucker Cappel.

A happy footnote: Joe and Carla found out two weeks ago their daughter expects her second child in April.

"We haven't slept since," Joe says.

'Surrounded and protected us'
Tucker's Restaurant hasn't changed much, but everything around it has. In the '60s and '70s all the independent businesses fed off each other, so Tucker's stayed open around the clock to serve the employees and patrons of nearby candy stores, bakeries, dry cleaners, taverns and the Husman's factory's three shifts.

Some Saturdays still remind them of the old days as people flock to Tucker's from as far as the suburbs. But they had to rebuild and almost lost their business after the 2001 uprising.

The night the riots started, Joe and a friend returned with grudging permission from the police to board up Tucker's broken windows.

"The black kids in the neighborhood surrounded us and protected us," Joe says. "It was like a war zone."

Carla says some people wish they would stop telling riot stories, but they can't forget.

"If someone was down there, I don't see how they could get over it," she says. "To see riot police marching down the streets of your city."

Joe, Carla and Maynie all think Vine Street's on an upswing. But Joe believes it'll take the independent businesses like those that once flourished here, not corporations, to really return Over-the-Rhine to its former humming glory.

The Tuckers just do what they've always done the best they can. Maynie doesn't see much unusual in that.

"I'm surprised," she says of the Sept. 19 ceremony. "I guess I wasn't ready for it."

What advice does Maynie have for the younger generation?

"To do the right thing and they'll always come out on top," she says. "And go to school and get a good education. That's the main thing."

She's getting antsy.

"Are you done with me now?"

Then she seems to feel badly and again says, "I wasn't expecting this. I don't think I deserve it — "

She finally admits it.

" — but it's been 60 years, you know."

She disappears to the back.

Once again, it begs the question: 60 years later, where to find Maynie Tucker? ©

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