Lines of cars pull into the drive-thru each day at the Maid-Rite Sandwich Shoppe, a Darke County institution. The restaurant is famous for its loose-meat sandwiches.
But that’s not all.
Remarkably, the exterior of the building is covered in chewing gum — on purpose. And we mean covered.
First, a little history of the business.
Louise Maher opened the Greenville business on North Broadway in 1934 with her brothers Tom and Gene Maher.
The mainstay of the restaurant is Maher’s own recipe for the slightly sweet, steamed loose-meat sandwich that tastes like “something awesome and something great,” said Mark Koontz, who is part of the trio of families that runs the business today.
But its quirky chewing gum tradition has also attracted crowds for decades.
Wads of Bazooka, Wrigley’s and Bubble Yum cover the red brick walls. Gobs of gum in different sizes, colors and shapes start at ground level and reach near the top of the one-story building, even covering the window sills, gutters and exhaust pipes.
Koontz said he can’t put an exact year on the start of the tradition, but believes it began just a few years after the store opened.
Customers entering the shop through the back door would stick their gum on the brick exterior rather than throwing it on the ground.
The tradition has stuck around for more than eight decades.
Coins, bottle caps and small pieces of paper with messages written inside have been stuck into the gum. Sometimes people stretch their chewed gum into initials and declare their love.
“It’s kind of weird and corny, but kind of neat because people’s memories are tied to it,” said Koontz. “It’s a piece of gum, but it’s generations of memories.”
The tradition has captivated the community through the years and many have marked personal milestones at the sandwich shop, Koontz said.
Couples have gotten engaged in front of the gum-covered walls. Families gather there for group portraits. During World War II, young men took their girlfriends to the Maid-Rite to stick their gum on the wall together before heading to war.
It’s not only the locals who leave their mark. Somewhere on the back of the building, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and John Boehner, the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, have cemented chewing gum to the wall, Koontz said.
The sugar in the gum can draw bees Koontz said, so they attempt to keep the drive-thru gum free. But it’s a lost cause, as cars still pull-up, the windows roll down and a wad of gum goes up on the wall.
Though some might find the tradition disagreeable, the owners have never considered removing the gum.
“I wouldn’t do it,” said Koontz. “Those are people’s memories and they have so much invested interest. We have such great customers, who am I to take anything off the wall?”