Driving into Athens from Nelsonville, it’s impossible to miss the massive billboard sitting on the right side of Route 33. The sign is loud, yellow and black, its text practically shouting at motorists, “WE ONLY SERVE MEATLOAF AND STRAWBERRY MILK.” This is the now-famous sign for Margie’s Meatloaf Mecca, a restaurant that doesn’t, and will never, exist.

The iconic billboard has been up since October, advertising succulent meatloaf and claiming that Margie’s Meatloaf Mecca is coming soon to Athens. However, in the four months that it has been up, nothing has opened at 8 N. Court St, the address mentioned on succulentmeatloaf.com.

Over time, it has become almost common knowledge in Athens that the advertisement is a prank, but many Ohio University students and residents of Athens are just curious about why exactly the billboard exists.

OU alumni John Sammon and Steve Dimatteo are the geniuses behind this enormous prank. According to Sammon, his friend, Margie Pandora, got married in December, and he decided he wanted to surprise her when she came to her bachelor party in Athens.

“I do marketing, and a couple of my other friends who were in on this are in marketing as well,” Sammon said, adding he is now an owner of an advertising agency. “So we basically created a fake business and put up a billboard to kind of just have some fun with her ahead of the wedding because she’s our good friend.”

Sammon and Dimatteo worked together to come up with the most ridiculous business they could think of, and they decided on Margie’s Meatloaf Mecca, a restaurant that only sells ‘moist,’ ‘dry,’ and ‘drier’ meatloaf alongside strawberry milk. 

“Because it’s in Athens, it’s like … it’s gotta be fake, but there’s also an element to it where it could be real, so that’s the fun of all of it,” Sammon said. “We have statistics on the website. We’re actually watching the website traffic, and we get form submissions from people who have seen the billboard.”

Pandora was completely shocked when she learned about the billboard. She said she had a feeling something would happen because Sammon is known for his pranks, but she had no idea that it would be something as big as this.

“My fiance was in on it. All my friends were in on it, and a couple days before we went down to Athens, John texted me this picture of the billboard, and I thought it was just something he photoshopped,” Pandora said. “I was like, oh, that’s kind of funny and random. And, like, two minutes after he texted me, he called me, and I answered the phone and it was just him laughing. I was like, ‘What’s so funny?’ And he was like, ‘If that looks too good to be real, it’s because it is.’”

Excitement and anticipation built up as the day of Pandora’s bachelor party in Athens got closer. Pandora learned the billboard had been up for almost a month before she’d heard of it, and that almost everyone she knew, including her fiance’s dad, had seen it. Sammon marked the coordinates of the billboard on Pandora’s GPS the day she headed back to OU.

“We pulled over, and we saw it in all its glory, and it was so funny,” Pandora said, recalling when she first saw the billboard. “That’s a picture of me, and it’s so big. He said it’s like 16 or 18 feet. To see your face on a billboard is pretty wild.”

According to Nauman Outdoor Advertising Co., the company that was paid to put up the billboard, approximately 15,000 people drive by the billboard each day. Sammon said only a month of the billboard was paid for, but the company hasn’t had a reason to take it down yet. At the moment, the prank seems almost never-ending.

“It’s been amazing that the billboard is still up, and you can still find people that are tweeting about it in utter confusion,” Dimatteo said. “The best part of it is that you see tweets go up by people that are absolutely baffled that they saw that billboard.”

Numerous people have reached out through the website, which gets about 60 to 80 visits a day. Whether they think it’s real or know it’s a prank, Margie’s Meatloaf Mecca certainly has fans. Sammon is now selling shirts and hoodies through the website for those who want Margie’s Meatloaf Mecca merchandise, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Athens County Food Pantry.

“I can’t wait to wear my Margie’s Meatloaf Mecca hoodie down in Athens and see the reaction,” Sammon said. “My ultimate dream is for Margie to go to Athens and be recognized. That’s the pinnacle of the prank, is for somebody to say, ‘Aren’t you that girl from the meatloaf place?’”

Both Pandora and Sammon hope that everyone in Athens gets a big kick out of the billboard for however long it’s up.

“I think it’s hysterical,” Sammon said. “It’s kind of sappy, but … There’s so many crappy things that go on in the world, and if you drive by the billboard, it just brings a laugh. It kind of just makes my day.”

More information can be found at succulentmeatloaf.com