Buckeye Hall Of Fame Cafe — Love Letter To Columbus

Jason McGathey
6 min readAug 1, 2019
Burger menu from Buckeye Hall Of Fame Cafe, Columbus, Ohio

Originally, ownership of the Damon’s on Olentangy planned to open a brand new building for that same chain, right across the parking lot. I know because I happened to be working there at the time. Instead, plans were soon scrapped in favor of a separate plot of land, a different operation entirely. This would have been 1997. Management was threatening us all with this incessant best of the best nonsense, insisting they would only accept top shelf talent for a transfer to the new restaurant. The hilarious conclusion to this tale is that only two employees bothered signing up anyway — our daytime manager Drew, and some part time prep cook. The best of the best? I’m not sure management quite filled their stated objective, there. If this is a Hall Of Fame cafe, its inaugural class doesn’t exactly rival Cooperstown’s.

The Buckeye Hall of Fame Café, they’re terming this latest venture. Great, just what campus needs. Nonetheless, when a Columbus institution, the Jai Lai, shutters its doors (at 1421 Olentangy River Road) in August of ’96, the brain trust behind our Damon’s decides to swoop in for the kill. Jai Lai was Woody Hayes’s favorite restaurant in town, and his efforts alone generated all sorts of revenue for the place. Still, local fervor for this niche notwithstanding, I get the feeling it will take a lot more than the support on an OSU football coach to keep this latest venture afloat. Plus, well, let’s not forget that Woody Hayes died in 1987.

A couple miles south of the Damon’s, also on Olentangy, past the brand new baseball field and the Jack Nicklaus museum, past the Lennox spaceship shopping center, directly facing the river, this building they do cobble together with impressive, land speed record time, I’ll give them that. Still, Buckeye football fans are already the most annoying aficionados on the planet, and this added fuel surely won’t help matters any. And while there are surely token efforts at championing the other sports under this umbrella, we all know what the driving force is behind this venture.

The football team used to hold weekly press conferences here, after all, back when it was the Jai Lai, and they even experimented with helicoptering patrons from here to the game back in ’74. So yes, a cursed shrine to OSU heroes of yore, as if these nuts don’t already vomit…