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From Left Field

July 5, 2011

By BOB SHRALUKA
    It's more than a little amazing if you take the time to closely and slowly ponder the numbers.
    West End restaurant has been at the same location in Decatur for 125 years. At least. Since 1886, people have been going to the northwest corner of Monroe and Seventh streets to eat. At least 125 years..
    Since 1886 ... before phones, before radio, before automobiles, long before World War I, before crooked politicians ... well, scratch the latter.
    Any other business here been doing the same thing for 125 years in the same place?
    "A woman came in here a few years ago with Cafes of America and said West End was the oldest place in the same location with the same name in Indiana," current co-owner Phil Wolpert said the other day.
    Actually, Wolpert said, the exact start date isn't certain. The place could date even to beyond 1886. "That (1886) is as far back as we can find, anyway," Wolpert said. "Dave Heller (longtime Daily Democrat advertising manager) did a history of the place for the second Adams County history book, and that's as far back as he could find. So we just go with that date."
    To be totally correct, the restaurant didn't quite start in its current location; not exactly. Hower's Grovery was on the corner and the restaurant was one door west, in what is now the restaurant's waiting/banquet room.
    The restaurant had nine owners before Andy Appelman bought it in 1935. "He bought it for his wife, actually. He had a good job at the GE and wasn't going to give it up," Wolpert laughed. "Then, she died about a year or so later. So he later remarried and then came into the restaurant."
    In 1938, Appelman — a member of the first Decatur Catholic High School graduating class — bought the building and in 1939 moved his restaurant to the corner.
    Phil's uncle, Paul Wolpert, worked for Andy and became the first Wolpert to be employed there. Phil's dad, Louie, who had started Riverview Gardens, was managing the Elks Lodge.
    In 1972 or 1973, the brothers Wolpert purchased the business from Appelman, for a couple of thousand bucks, as Phil recalls. They scraped together everything they had and had so little left that Andy had to help out.
    "He put something like $500 in the cash register so they (Louie and Paul) could get started," Phil laughs. "Can you imagine?"
    When Paul had some health issues, Phil Wolpert, then all of 25, became a partner in 1982. "Dad said to try it for a year and if it didn't work, then we'd sell it. Well, here I am," Phil chuckled.
    Louie, currently a resident of Woodcrest and rolling right along at 90 years of age, eventually retired and Phil took over sole operation. One of his employees, Jared Lengerich, bought into the business nine years ago. Today, the two partners are continuing operations where it all began at least 125 years ago ... well, within a few feet of where it actually began.
    No one knows who came up with the name "West End" but Phil knows why. "Because it was at the west end of the business district. The only thing on the other side (to the west) was, like, an elevator."
    The brick walls have been uncovered in the front section of the eatery in recent years and if, as the old saying goes, they could talk, the stories would be absolutely endless ... and no doubt in many cases hilarious. "They said Andy would be back in the kitchen and someone would come in, pour themselves a cup of coffee and put their money in the cash register," Phil chuckled.
    Here's to another 125 ... at least!

 

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