After working alongside siblings, nieces and nephews for years, one of those has joined Larry Elchert in co-owning Fort Ball Pizza Palace.
Eric Elchert, who began at the restaurant washing dishes 21 years ago, and moved up in the business to manager, has purchased half the partnership from Bob Gahris.
"This has always been something that I've liked doing," Eric said. "For the past eight to 10 years Bob has been telling me to hold on, that he would be able to sell his share to me. It's nice to work with my uncle."
PHOTO BY CATHY WILLOUGHBY
Longtime Fort Ball co-owner Larry Elchert (left) and his nephew, Eric Elchert.
From dishes, Eric graduated to cooking, making pizzas and sub sandwiches and learning the preparation work.
The business has been in Tiffin for 32 years, and has an established menu that does well, he said. Occasionally, they add a menu item, such as the recent taco pizza.
"Every once in awhile, we will add to the buffet," Eric said. "There are other items that we will introduce later on."
"It's a great product. We use high-end premium product for everything, bread, pizza crust," he said. "We make the meatballs in house, the sauce is homemade. And because we do things the old-fashioned way, a lot of the salad bar items are made in house."
The buffet, which is the choice of most customers when they dine inside, features homemade coleslaw, cucumber salad, angel hair pasta salad and macaroni salad, as well as a vinegar-and-oil house dressing.
"Eric always said that he would be an owner one day," Larry said. "I have three brothers and four sisters, and it's really a family business. It's totally Elchert owned now, which is what I really like."
Larry was only 20 years old when he opened the restaurant in the same location.
"Over the years we've had locations in Fostoria, Port Clinton, Sandusky and Fremont," Larry said. "Since then, we have sold all of the others, and are concentrating on the Tiffin locations."
Larry is the first one in the door at 5:30 every morning, and attributed the restaurant's success to a menu that has remained attuned to customer tastes.
"We try certain things, and if they don't move, we get rid of it," he said. "The buffet has been around since we opened. It's larger, and a good majority of the items, like the pickled eggs, slaw, macaroni salad, are made in house. There are no preservatives. It's good stuff."
Fort Ball Pizza Palace has many regular customers, and is a popular meeting place for area groups and alumni gatherings.
"Our motto is, 'Relax and enjoy, you are among friends,'" Larry said. "My sister, Patty, and brother, Paul, get in here and take care of themselves. They'll help bus the tables and everything. It's kind of like a family atmosphere."
Fort Ball Pizza has two locations - delivery and carry out at 111 Melmore St. and the dine-in restaurant at 91 N. Washington St. Hours are 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The buffet is open daily 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.