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Open House Is Saturday

May 10, 2012
By John Speer - Editor , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

"I love it, it's fun," Mary Ann Gardner said last week. "I always love to go to work."

That she has done for most of the last 50 years at the Trojan Inn Cafe in downtown Toledo, rising before 6 a.m., five days a week.

It's been a family affair on East High Street for all that time. Mary Ann has owned the Trojan Inn for the past 28 years and worked for her sister and then her mother in the business since it opened in 1962.

Article Photos

Mary Ann Gardner is shown at the counter of her Trojan Inn in downtown Toledo which has been in business on East High Street for the past 50 years. The case at her right is part of the original equipment used when the cafe opened in 1962.
Chronicle/John Speer

The 50 years make the Trojan Inn Toledo's current longest-owned family business in operation and may hold the title county-wide, Mary Ann says.

She'll be hosting a 50-year - golden anniversary open house - at the restaurant this Saturday, May 12, from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Mary Ann says "There'll be lots of food and shared memories."

She says the Trojan Inn originally was the dream of her sister, Marlene, Rhoads, who opened up at 103 East High St. Marlene had been employed at the Tama County Sheriff's Office and part-time at the Isle of Capri Bowling Alley in Tama.

Fact Box


WHAT: Trojan Inn 50th Anniversary Open House

WHEN: Saturday, May 12, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

WHERE: 127 East High St.

Marlene enlisted the help of her husband, Dean, who built the booths, counter and refinished the interior of the storefront himself.

The location had previously housed a cafe, Al's Place, operated by Albiene Buresh, but had been closed.

Old-timers can also likely remember the spot as the long-time location of Hugo's Sundries.

When they opened up in the month of May in '62, Marlene was the cook, sister Ruth Becker was the dishwasher and Mary Ann served as waitress.

The sisters' mother, Carrie Becker, was a cook at the Hilltop Cafe at 13th and Harding on U.S. 63 in Tama at the time.

Business demands had Carrie soon leaving there to join the Trojan Inn crew, Mary Ann says. Carrie worked at the Hilltop beginning in 1950 and Mary Ann says of her family, "We grew up in the restaurant business."

When Dean Rhoads, who worked in the office of the Tama County engineer, decided to return to engineering school in Kansas in 1966, Marlene sold the cafe to her mother. Upon Carrie's retirement in 1984, Mary Ann bought the Trojan Inn and has been the operator since.

"I haven't changed much over the years," Mary Ann says. The tenderloins which have always been handmade at the Trojan Inn, hot beef sandwiches "on Thursdays" and banana cream pie remain the top sellers. Breakfast and lunch are served Monday-Friday with the hours 6 a.m.- 4 p.m.

The location did change when she relocated the cafe down the street to 127 East High St. and re-opened the doors on Dec. 4, 1994.

Mary Ann says she still uses the cast grill and french fryer Marlene bought when she opened in 1962. Somewhat coincidentally those items were bought by Marlene from what was called the Trojan Inn Drive-In State Center which had closed there.

A pie case on the front counter is original too, although it now displays candy because pies must now be refrigerated. The same teapots, a high chair and a "paddle" for the grill are all Marlene's original equipment which is still in use.

Although the faces of the help have changed in 50 years, Mary Ann still has her daughter-in-law, Barbie Gardner, helping part-time, a role as waitress she has performed since she was 16. Tonda Swanson has worked at the Trojan Inn for the past 15 years and Deb Tonche also has worked for Mary Ann for many years.

Mary Ann's sons, Richard and Roger also were pressed in to service often help out in the operation while they were growing up, filling in for help who couldn't come in.

"I said "If we had everyone who worked here come in at once it would be shoulder-to-shoulder,"" Mary Ann says.

In addition to her sons, Richard and Roger, Mary Ann has three granddaughters, Alex, Dani and Abby and two step-grandchildren, Kelsi and Cory.

Richard started a new job at the Ross Bow Company at Olathe, Kan. this week after working in construction for 25 years.

Roger, Barbie and family live in Toledo where he is employed as a diesel mechanic at Z-Line.

After 50 years in the business, How long will Mary Ann continue to operate the Trojan Inn?

"Till I die or can't do it anymore," she replies.

So, it looks like you'll still be able to get a fountain cherry coke in downtown Toledo for a long time to come.



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