Community remembers Capt’n Brady’s, hopes to preserve history

An original picture of the drug store on East Main Street, where both Capt’n Brady’s and Starbucks would stand.

Sarah Lorenz

Kent State students have gathered on the East Main Street corner for coffee for almost a century.

As Kent’s culture and students changed with the times, Capt’n Brady’s was always there.

Capt’n Brady’s was a place to study, recite poetry, hash out popular discussion or sit down for a cup of coffee with your own mug that was hung above the bar. You might find yourself indulging in a ‘Brady roll’ — a locally baked deep-fried cinnamon roll.

The history shared within the walls of the building makes alumni worried for the future, as Kent State recently purchased the property. 

Brothers Dick and Roy Donaghy owned a drug store in Kent during the 1920s.

Charles G. Kistler, the first-licensed architect in Ohio, was commissioned to design and build the East Main Street property for the Donaghy family. It was finished in June of 1929 and housed the Robin Hood Inn, the first campus supply store and first contract post office.

The Robin Hood Inn, an elegant restaurant for alumni and club dinners, was relocated across the street in 1930.

Capt’n Brady’s was established around 1935.

“Brady sitting” was a common phrase in the ‘30s, said local historian and Kent State alumnus Loris Troyer in his book “Portage Pathways.” Troyer said it was common to see 400 people join together at Brady’s for social gatherings and town gossip.

“Capt’n Brady’s was the scene of planning,” Troyer said. “My favorite place to study instead of making a trip to the library.”

Troyer also worked at Capt’n Brady’s in the late ‘30s — he was a bus boy and dishwasher, making 35 cents an hour. After paying for his daily meals, he would take home $1.05 to put toward his journalism degree.

“On Saturday nights, my co-worker and I had to scrub and wax the floors,” Troyer said. “When we would finish around 4 a.m., we were permitted to make ourselves a real meal: juicy steaks and ice cream sundaes.”

As the years passed, the crowds at the East Main Street hangout become more familiar.

“The old Captain Brady, for all around atmosphere, is as good as they come,” the Daily Kent Stater read in 1940. “You go in there, intending to stay 10 minutes, and walk out an hour later. It has a friendliness you can’t beat. Girls, fellows, lovers, four-somes, one and all, in they come.”

The 1957 Phi Delta Theta pledge class held an election for “Pledge Princess” in the windows of the Brady, according to the Daily Kent Stater.

“Each sorority has nominated its choice (of sorority sister),” the Daily Kent Stater article said. “The men of each pledge class can make their selection from the group of photos of the candidates … in the window of the Captain Brady restaurant.”

The student life attendance at the Brady grew, as did the university.

“Capt’n Brady’s was the first place in town for students to have social gatherings, the connection point between downtown Kent and the university,” said Doug Fuller, a local historian and Kent State alumnus.

Fuller was an architecture student during the late 1960s, and remembers going to Capt’n Brady’s for a daily cup of coffee. He was also present during May 4, and recalls the atmosphere of the campus.

“There was all kinds of politically charged conversations and protests of what people thought our country should be,” Fuller said. “But Brady’s was a place where everyone could be themselves and experience free speech peacefully.”

Around the time of the May 4 tragedy in Kent, the Capt’n Brady’s windows were smashed on the first floor.

The decorations were simply set up for customers to be comfortable. Plain tables, mismatched chairs, wooden benches and green and white tile floor set the atmosphere, the Daily Kent Stater said in April of 1984.

The menu was posted on the back wall for customers to glance at while pouring their coffee. It was encouraged to call your order out to the cook; it reportedly took two and a half minutes to cook a breakfast. Plants, rocking chairs and art on the walls gave ‘the Brady regulars’ a sense of home. There was no pressure to leave a table for someone else, because family dining and large portions of shared meals were encouraged.

After 50 years of being a Kent icon, Capt’n Brady’s closed its doors on July 31, 1985.

The new owners announced they renamed the restaurant ‘Brady’s.’ With the addition of fresh paint, new tables and restored oak floors, the building had new life again. There would still be poetry, coffee, recipes from the original cookbook and newspapers stacked in the entryway, but tradition would forever be lost.

Howard Boyle, president of Hometown Bank and local historian, is a family friend of the Donaghy family. He remembers Capt’n Brady’s as a traditional landmark of Kent.

“Capt’n Brady’s gave an identity to the university,” Boyle said. “This building is a symbol of home for the students.”

Capt’n Brady’s has seen many owners and culture changes in its lifetime, but the one thing that has never changed is the presence of student life.

A Starbucks was placed into the beloved Capt’n Brady’s around 2003, and was deemed a ‘slap in the face’ and a corporate evil by a Daily Kent Stater reporter in September of 2003. 

This past December, the university purchased the property Starbucks is located on, and Kent State has yet to reveal its plans for the area. The community and alumni, however, have their own ideas.

When describing the “old-English” style of the building and the architectural importance of keeping one of Kistler’s original buildings from the 1920s, Boyle said: “It’s a body of work that can be loved for generations of students to come; it exemplifies Kistler’s creativity. I would like to see the university move the building before they tear it down.”

Boyle said downtown Kent has grown and modernized just as Kent State has on campus, but the historic value must be preserved.

“Everything changes, from politics to student attitudes, and I think we have lost some of our funkiness from the 1960s,” Fuller said. “You have to change in order to satisfy the coming generations.”

Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala is very passionate about Kent’s History, especially Capt’n Brady’s. He said he enjoyed going there as a kid with his family and continues to enjoy the building today as Starbucks.

“I hope the university does whatever they can to preserve the building and maintain its history,” Fiala said. “Its too often in this modern world we don’t have anything to understand where we came from.”

Sarah Lorenz is the downtown and neighborhoods reporter, contact her at [email protected].