City Quotient: Remembering the Clarmont

Steaks, organ music and power breakfasts

Jeff Darbee
The Clarmont

I recall a restaurant called the Clarmont that was pretty popular but closed a while ago. I think it was on High Street. What can you tell me about it?

The Clarmont (no “E”) opened in 1948 and was the haunt of political and business dealmakers as well as just regular folks. It was at 684 S. High St., where a Panera is today, and was owned by Frank Kondos and Ray Milner, owners of the Tremont a few doors north. They wanted a larger “white tablecloth” restaurant close to Downtown, where their customer base worked, but easy to reach by car (it boasted a secure “lighted parking lot”). 

It didn’t take long for the Clarmont to become the city’s “legendary power breakfast spot,” where local movers and shakers could be seen (as well as keep an eye on their peers). Dinnertime offered “prime steaks broiled to order” and pan-fried chicken. The place was known for the fact that servers memorized diners’ orders instead of writing them down. It was also known for the generous offerings of its large cigar case. And not to be missed was “Vivian at the Organ”—Vivian Boeshaar, who began at the Tremont in 1945 and played for many more decades at the Clarmont. 

But things change. Barry Zacks, founder of Max & Erma’s, bought the Clarmont in 1972, and it was sold several more times before succumbing in 2012 to high costs and changes in the business. Then came Panera. The restaurant chain easily could have cleared the site but instead chose to remodel the building. Best of all, its “postwar modernist” sign stayed, too. Instead of “Seafood and Steak,” the sign now declares “Bakery and Café.” And even though the organ music is gone, a bit of old Columbus lives on. 

For quite a while now, I have seen crews from New River Electrical working on Downtown streets. What is this company and what is it doing Downtown?

The New River Electrical Corp. was started in 1953 by Sherrill W. Stockton, a chief electrician in the U.S. Navy. It’s headquartered in Virginia (its name derived from a major river there) but has an office in Westerville. The company provides contract services to electric utilities, completing its very first project, a small electric substation, for Ohio Power Co., part of American Electric Power today. New River is owned by its 1,100-plus employees and does business in 38 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 

So what has New River been doing down there under our streets? Long ago, the city and AEP had the foresight to put electric wires and cables underground to prevent the view of the cityscape from being marred. Today, that infrastructure has been in tunnels and conduits for as much as 30-plus years, and AEP has engaged New River to replace the cables and related equipment, doing it proactively instead of waiting for a major failure. Such incidents have been rare, and we do have a pretty reliable electric grid, but making it even more reliable sure seems like a good idea. 

***

Sources: columbusunderground.com; dispatch.com; many breakfasts at the Clarmont; newriverelectrical.com; phone conversation with New River Electrical Corp.

Have a question about Central Ohio? Send it to cityquotient@columbusmonthly.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.