Birth of a legend: Kewpee


By Janna Ross - For The Lima News



Kids pile into Kewpee Downtown in an unknown year. It wasn't until the 1970s that a second Kewpee location would open.

Kids pile into Kewpee Downtown in an unknown year. It wasn't until the 1970s that a second Kewpee location would open.


Allen County Historical Society photos

The Kewpee Hotel, pictured in 1929. The sign advertises a "Mity nice Hamburg."

The Kewpee Hotel, pictured in 1929. The sign advertises a "Mity nice Hamburg."


Allen County Historical Society photos

An ad for the beers available at Kewpee in 1933.


Allen County Historical Society photos

The turntable at Kewpee Downtown, pictured in 1955. It was once necessary to rotate cars so they could leave the tiny parking lot.


Allen County Historical Society photos

Kewpee employee Roger Bowersock poses for a photo in 1962.


Allen County Historical Society photos

The iconic sandwich wrapper is so beloved some have it framed and on the walls of their homes and businesses.


Allen County Historical Society photos

Kewpee Fun Facts

1. The kewpie doll that is seen in all of the Kewpee restaurants was created by Rose O’Neill in 1910.

2. In 1993 The Lima News did a story on Jeffery Tennyson, an author from California, who was on a 15-year search for the best burger and burger joint. Kewpee made it into the top five.

Editor’s note: The exact year the turntable was removed is unclear. The Kewpee email address mentioned in an earlier version of this story is now unavailable.

LIMA — In 1928 amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Lima, a small hamburger shop opened up next to the City Loan building. It had a walk-up window where you could order a hamburger for just a nickel. Its name was “Kewpee Hotel” and as time went on it became a big hit and one of the things Lima has become known for.

Nowadays it seems Kewpee’s humble beginnings are associated with Lima because of its great success as well as the fact that its headquarters are here, but the original hamburger shop started a bit farther north.

According to The Allen County Reporter, Flint, Michigan, was the first home to a Kewpee which was opened by Sam Blair near the end of World War I. Kewpee Hotel hamburger shops spread all the way to Ohio, Indiana and New York among other places until there were close to 400 of them.

After World War II, because of meat shortages, a lot of locations shut down. Harrison Shutt, the current owner, said, “It was patriotic to have meatless day — in fact, the Lima Kewpee served hot dogs one day a week for a while.”

In 1926, the Kewpee trademark was purchased by Ed Adams. A couple of years later Stub and June Wilson opened the first Lima Kewpee at 111 N. Elizabeth St. The menu was quite small then. The Allen County Reporter stated that in 1930 the menu consisted of hamburgers, cola, root beer, milkshakes, pie, coffee — and for a short time — beer at a dime a bottle.

In 1939 the new building with the enamel finish, which is the same one that stands today, was completed along with a kewpie doll over the entryway to greet customers going in. At the same time, the frosted malt made its debut.

Curbside service began in 1944 and according to The Lima News it became a tradition that drew regulars from as far away as Fort Wayne, Indiana. People looked forward to seeing the Kewpee girls each time they visited. One of the girls actually worked as a carhop for 20 years. However, to many people’s disappointment, the curbside service was replaced by a drive-thru window in 1988, despite a petition signed by 400 customers to keep it going.

The downtown Kewpee was also known for its turntable. The Allen County Reporter noted that the original turntable, which was only operational from the back of the parking lot, was replaced in 1955 by a new one that could be operated from within the restaurant. Since the parking lot was so small, cars would sit on the turntable and be rotated around until they could drive out. It was a highlight for kids back then. At some point, the turntable was removed because more parking became available in an additional lot.

Hoyt F. “Stub” Wilson, the man who brought Kewpee to Lima initially, died in 1970. The Allen County Reporter stated that since his wife June had not been involved with the Kewpee business, Harrison Shutt became the general manager and took over operations.

Right away Shutt looked into expanding the business, and by 1972 The Lima News announced the finishing touches being made on the second Kewpee location at 2111 Allentown Road.

Harrison Shutt became the head of the corporation when Julia M. “June” Stubb died in 1979. Two years after that, in 1981, The Lima News publicized the coming of a third Kewpee location at 1350 Bellefontaine Ave. This location was much bigger than the other two as it was able to seat 180 people while the Allentown location was built to seat 65 people and the downtown location even smaller than that. By 1985, Harrison Shutt had taken the steps to purchase all rights to Kewpee hamburgers.

In 1995, The Lima News announced the addition of a full breakfast menu. Included in this menu was the D.G. Teezer, a hash brown filled with egg and cheese. This was the first change in the menu since fries were added in 1975. People liked having a hot breakfast item to choose and it became a big hit. However, the D.G. Teezer is no longer available today.

Currently, besides the three locations in Lima, there are two in Lansing, Michigan, and one in Racine, Wisconsin. As for expanding the restaurant to other areas, Harrison Shutt said, “We can now, of course, go anywhere, but we do want to protect our rights and our heritage. To go out and let just anybody do it might destroy all that we have worked so hard to build up over the years.”

Kids pile into Kewpee Downtown in an unknown year. It wasn't until the 1970s that a second Kewpee location would open.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2015/12/web1_kewpee-kids-1.jpgKids pile into Kewpee Downtown in an unknown year. It wasn't until the 1970s that a second Kewpee location would open.Allen County Historical Society photos
The Kewpee Hotel, pictured in 1929. The sign advertises a "Mity nice Hamburg."
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2015/12/web1_Kewpee-1929-1.jpgThe Kewpee Hotel, pictured in 1929. The sign advertises a "Mity nice Hamburg."Allen County Historical Society photos
An ad for the beers available at Kewpee in 1933.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2015/12/web1_ads-1933-1.jpgAn ad for the beers available at Kewpee in 1933.Allen County Historical Society photos
The turntable at Kewpee Downtown, pictured in 1955. It was once necessary to rotate cars so they could leave the tiny parking lot.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2015/12/web1_1955-turntable-1.jpgThe turntable at Kewpee Downtown, pictured in 1955. It was once necessary to rotate cars so they could leave the tiny parking lot.Allen County Historical Society photos
Kewpee employee Roger Bowersock poses for a photo in 1962.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2015/12/web1_Kewpee-Emp-Roger-Bowersock-1962.jpgKewpee employee Roger Bowersock poses for a photo in 1962. Allen County Historical Society photos
The iconic sandwich wrapper is so beloved some have it framed and on the walls of their homes and businesses.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2015/12/web1_paper-1.jpgThe iconic sandwich wrapper is so beloved some have it framed and on the walls of their homes and businesses. Allen County Historical Society photos

By Janna Ross

For The Lima News

Kewpee Fun Facts

1. The kewpie doll that is seen in all of the Kewpee restaurants was created by Rose O’Neill in 1910.

2. In 1993 The Lima News did a story on Jeffery Tennyson, an author from California, who was on a 15-year search for the best burger and burger joint. Kewpee made it into the top five.

Reach Janna Ross at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.

Reach Janna Ross at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.

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