It’s no secret that what makes Athens is the food. From Bagel Street Deli to Union Street Diner to Miller’s Chicken, when Ohio University students graduate, they miss the food. 

Several restaurants in and around Athens have been around since way before 2010 and some have just opened at the start of the decade. Almost ten years later, the restaurants discuss how business has been and what’s in store for the future.

Union Street Diner (USD), 70 W. Union St., has been an Athens staple for years. The 24/7 diner is the hotspot for the late-night munchies with all-day breakfast, handmade milkshakes and ranch so good you could drink it. The most popular college snack is their mac n cheese bites. But that’s not all the diner is known for. 

The diner has daily specials, said Jodi Ross Weber, a server at USD. Weber lays out the specials. Monday’s dinner special is the meatloaf dinner, Tuesday is chicken parmesan, Wednesday’s dinner special is buy a hamburger and get a $1 milkshake, Thursday is chicken and noodles, Friday is fish and chips, Saturday is their spicy chicken sandwich and Sunday is their linguini and meatballs.

“USD opened May 1, 1996 where the Thai restaurant is now,” Dorothy Burchfield, another server, said. “I’ve been there since day one when it moved up the street to where it now, I think around 2006 or 2007. Jay took over August 2011. It’s still basically the same diner as it has been. Business-wise, it has grown over the last eight years. I still see people that came in when it first opened.”

The diner has come a long way since Dee Forsyth, the original owner, opened the diner 23 years ago. Despite their history, Union Street Diner is innovating themselves.

Gabriela Grijalva, a server, said aside from the pies, the diner is known for their milkshakes. No matter what flavor of milkshake you order, the milkshake will come to the table in a glass stein, filled to the brim topped with creamy whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. Most people don’t know the secret menu item, the Santa Claus Sundae, which is an ice cream sundae topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, Oreos, chocolate chips and a maraschino cherry.

“I like that you get all sorts of people,” Grivalva said. 

Union Street Diner is a healthy mix of local residents and students. Likewise, students and local residents dine at Jackie O’s, 22 W. Union St.

Jackie O’s is known for its beer, but the restaurant is quite popular and sustainable. 

“Jackie O's was founded in 2006 in the Brewpub location,” Mike Flynn, the front of house manager, said in an email. “The Public House opened next door in 2006 and the Tap Room in 2013. Jackie O's was started as small batch brewing in the basement of the Brewpub and has grown into a craft brewery that distributes all over Ohio.” 

Mystic Mama, an Indian Pale Ale is a Jackie O’s classic beer that “lends a firm bitterness and tons of great flavors of grapefruit, tangerines, and pine,” according to the restaurant’s website. Razz Wheat, another classic, is infused with raspberries.

“We have become a destination for customers outside of Athens in the craft beer community and one of the largest employers in the county,” Flynn said in an email.

Aside from beer, Jackie O’s is known for its burgers, which is made with with local beef on a house-made bread with kettle chips or seasonal veggies. Jackie O’s prides itself on partnering local. Their partners include Laurel Valley Creamery, Athens’ Own, Shagbark Seed & Mill, Herbal Sage, Snowville Creamery, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Chelsea’s Real Food, Jackie O’s Bake Shop and others.

Jackie O’s understands its success and popularity in Athens. 

“We are planning to continue growing as a business that is known for making quality products while being active in making the community better,” Flynn said in an email.

Just around the corner is another Athens staple that has been around for a much shorter time, but has made its mark, nonetheless.

Jessica Kopelwitz and her husband, Jason, are both Ohio University alumni and opened Fluff Bakery, 8 N. Court, in 2010.  Nestled between Cat’s Eye and Pita Pit, Fluff fits in on Court Street. 

“Fluff grew from a bakery café, focused on unique bakery items and coffee, to a breakfast, brunch, and lunch restaurant (our rice bowls are a huge hit) with a growing list of scratch made bakery desserts and pastries, along with espresso drinks, local draft beers, kombucha, and cocktails,” Kopelwitz said in an email. “We continue to expand our gluten-free options and vegan options.”

The bakery specializes in breakfast, brunch and rice bowls. Its scramblers are made with farm fresh eggs, Snowville Creamery milk and Vermont cheddar.  The Yellow Curry Bowl, which is a bit spicy, has coconut milk, garlic, lemongrass, shallot, cumin, cinnamon, kaffir lime peel and coriander seed served over fresh steamed vegetables and jasmine rice. Roasted chicken or smoked pork is available. Vegans can choose extra vegetables or tofu. 

Fluff has weekly specials. Wednesday is slice day; customers get a free cup of Silver Bridge Coffee when they enjoy a slice of cake for here. Thursday is Herbal Sage Tea time Thursday; customers receive a free choice of hot tea from Herbal Sage Tea with the purchase of a breakfast pastry. Friday is pie day, the same as slice day but with pie, Kopelwitz said.  

Fluff serves Silver Bridge Coffee, an Ohio-based coffee company. 

“Fluff will continue to create unique and yummy fresh food to meet the needs of our local community,” Kopelwitz said in an email. “We'll also continue to focus on our customer service to make sure each person who comes to Fluff finds what they really need and feels like a part of our family.”

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