If you're looking for a hearty breakfast, three side-by-side strip malls on Columbus' East Side add up to an unlikely dining destination.
Editor’s Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants mentioned in this article may be offering carryout/delivery only. Please call to check availability.
When Stavros Andronis first peeked in the window of the vacant diner that would eventually become Stav’s Diner, he was unimpressed with the grimy and dated space. In addition, Andronis—although he was checking out the location on the advice of a relative—was sure he didn’t want to get into the food business. He’d grown up working for his father at Golden Donuts & Diner on Lockbourne Road, and that was enough, he says.
Plus, there was another problem. “I said, ‘It’s next to a Panera? That’s never going to work,’” recalls Andronis, an OSU grad and Army vet who served in Afghanistan. At the time, he was working as a construction engineer but looking for a change.
In fact, there was another breakfast joint in the area: Scotty’s Café, one block away in the next strip mall over, a neighborhood institution with 26 years in the location serving breakfast all day in addition to a thriving catering business. Nevertheless, four days after his visit, Andronis found himself signing a lease for the property. Despite its “cheesiness,” he saw something warm and inviting about the space.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
A year later in 2017, another competitor would move into the neighborhood, in a third strip mall just to the east of Scotty’s: Block’s Bagels, which restaurateur Jeremy Fox was bringing back to the Bexley area a year after the Block family closed their 29-year-old location a bit farther east on Broad.
Hotelling’s Law is an economic theory that the most profitable location for a business is right next to a competitor. By locating side-by-side, according to Harold Hotelling’s seminal 1929 paper, two similar businesses can minimize the importance of location in the mind of a customer choosing between them. It’s one of the reasons you’ll find gas stations clustered together, or a Wendy’s next to a McDonald’s.
Hotelling’s Law may or may not be the reason there are four breakfast spots in such a short stretch of East Broad Street, but making their home in this area, close to Bexley, the airport and the Defense Supply Center of Columbus, seems to work for Stav’s, Scotty’s and Block’s. Together, the three outfits serve about 1,000 breakfasts a day. (Keeping it local, we did not interview the owners of Panera, part of a national chain and operated by Covelli Enterprises.)
All three shops are open through the lunch hour, serving both breakfast and lunch dishes, but none serves dinner. Scotty’s Café is closed on weekends.
“I think we feed off each other for breakfast,” says Scott Bast, owner of Scotty’s. “Plus, we have different clienteles. I think we all help each other in our own indirect way.”
Today, Stav’s is a bustling restaurant in the classic tradition of a New York diner. The menu offers 11 breakfast combos, including eggs any way, buttermilk pancakes (with chocolate chips or blueberries, if you like), French toast (challah is an option) and biscuits with gravy. You can see the Greek influence in the gyro omelet (and Mom’s Baklava). The flip side of the menu offers a full array of soups and sandwiches, as the diner is open through lunch Tuesday through Sunday.
As for the space, Stav’s has a retro vibe, which it comes by honestly: the diner was built in 1955, according to a server, as part of the Toddle House chain. The strip mall later went up around it. Stav’s seats just 33, with a row of stools along the L-shaped bar and tables for two along the wall.
Andronis himself is the grill master, expertly moving orders along the griddle while two or three friendly servers ply the crowd. It’s an intimate space, and that’s just the way he likes it, Andronis says. “I’m four feet from everybody,” he says. “People just open up to me.”
Jeremy Fox licenses the Block’s name, but his bagels are still made by the Block family’s company at their McNaughten Road location. Fox has the raw bagels delivered to his East Broad Street location, where they are first boiled, then baked, New York City-style. Half of his customers come in for takeout bagels, he says, whether by the dozen or as a sandwich, perhaps with one of 10 flavors of cream cheese. But the shop also offers a full breakfast and lunch menu, and while there’s no table service, plenty of people stay for a meal on-site in the space, which seats 60.
The restaurant is not kosher but, in recognition of its large Jewish clientele, serves no pork—turkey bacon and sausage are staples. Smoked salmon is plentiful, and the #2 Plate, two eggs with a side of lox, is popular, says Fox. (All plates are served with a bagel and cream cheese.) “You can have the lox scrambled into your eggs or on the side,” he points out. Lox All the Way is a bagel sandwich that includes the traditional works: lettuce, tomato, onion and capers.
With 80 seats, Scotty’s is much larger than the other two spots but is known for its friendly and personal service. Bast’s congenial wife, Gina, runs the front of the house, and she and the waitstaff, as well as Scott himself, make a point of greeting customers by their names—which, after 30 years in one location, are often well-known to the Basts. Scott, who grew up in Miami and ran a catering business there, met Gina, who’s from Westerville, when she was on vacation in Florida. “I fell in love with a Midwestern girl, and I moved here for her.”
Their daughter Audriana is the head chef at Scotty’s. (Their other daughter is also a chef, in Scotland.) Nearly everything at Scotty’s is scratch-made (he says his daughters grew up making their own marshmallows for s’mores), and the menu reflects both Scott’s Jewish heritage and Gina’s Italian background. You’ll find Italian wedding soup and a Reuben sandwich called The Schmoozer on the lunch menu; at breakfast you can order a Western, Greek, Jewish or Mexican omelet, and as for the super-thick and moist French toast, according to servers’ T-shirts, it “will make you challah.”
While the establishment’s success on Yelp (where Scotty’s is the highest rated restaurant in Columbus and, for the second time this year, one of the website’s “Top 100 Places to Eat” in the U.S.) might have something to do with gentle encouragement from servers to review the place, it’s an undeniably happy spot from which few diners leave unsatisfied.
Which pretty much describes all three Broad Street breakfast joints. Come hungry.
2932 E. Broad St., East Side
2980 E. Broad St., East Side
Block’s Bagels Bexley
3012 E. Broad St., East Side
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