An eating experience

Denise Wright

Mike’s Place Restaurant, located on S. Water Street, brings Kent together with casual atmosphere, large menu

Call it eccentric.

Call it the regular breakfast stop before work.

Call it Mike’s Place. It’s a Kent eatery, which according to its Web site was “created for the brotherhood of salt, sugar and grease.”

Reporter Denise Wright observed the restaurant over an extended period of time to piece together a day at Mike’s. The following is her account.

Where’s Wayne?

It’s 5:21 a.m. as cook Damian Dech makes his way across the empty parking lot of Mike’s Place Restaurant, unlocks the front door and walks inside. The building begins to light up in sync with his movements . one, now two, now three lights in the kitchen.

It’s 5:29 when Candi Kropp, a waitress who has worked at Mike’s for about nine years, walks into Server’s Alley and hangs her coat in the wooden closet in the corner.

It’s 5:36, and by now Candi already has three pots of coffee brewing, although neither she nor Damian seem to be in a rush.

Meanwhile, Damian is putting pans of the new marinara and meat sauce over steaming hot water.

“The meat sauce and the marinara are eons better than they used to be,” he says.

In the dining room, Candi pulls chairs down from the tables. She places baskets of creamers on top of the tables.

It’s 5:56 as Candi grabs a cup of coffee and a cup of water. She places them at the table nearest to the kitchen, Jim Thomas’ regular table.

“I’m unlocking the door,” Candi shouts back into the kitchen to Damian.

It’s 5:59.

Consider the sounds . the hiss of the cooking spray coating the grill . Candi singing along with the Taylor Swift song on the radio. “Our song is the slamming screen door.”… the word that Wayne, Mike’s most regular customer, is out of town and won’t be coming in today. Candi pouring coffee . “I always have coffee ready for the regulars.”


It’s still dark outside when the restaurant opens. The parking lot is lit by dim lamps and a few random lights and beer signs on the restaurant. Music plays through speakers hanging outside near the entrance. Jim Thomas walks in at precisely 6 a.m. and sits at the table where Candi already has beverages waiting.

“I saw you pulling in,” Candi says as Jim flips open a copy of the Record-Courier. He takes a sip of his coffee.

By 6:18, another man is seated in a nearby booth next to the front window. An older blue Corvair bicycle hangs over the booth.

“Have a nice day,” Candi calls out to Jim, who is now on his way out the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The man in the booth reads the Akron Beacon Journal while waiting for his meal. His name is Charles Matti and he has been coming to Mike’s for more than 15 years. He remembers that 1997 brought the addition of the homemade life-size X-Wing Fighter that sits in front of the restaurant.

He remembers that last year the bar was moved from the front of the restaurant to the new castle room in the back.

“Every time I come here I look around to see what’s different,” he says.

Candi approaches the table.

“Want some more coffee?” she asks.

Later in the morning, Candi is joined by Lisa Voss, another long-time waitress at Mike’s. Both waitresses are wearing blue hoodies that read “Mike’s Est. 1987.”

It’s after 9 a.m. and there are customers scattered throughout the dining room. Some are wearing business suits, while others are wearing pajama pants. Dan Frank is wearing a Browns sweatshirt and sitting in a booth on the side parallel to Water Street.

Dan has been going to Mike’s about every two weeks for more than 10 years. He recalls that the space was occupied by Dutch Pantry before closing down over 20 years ago. He said the building sat empty for a long time before Mike’s bought it.

Over the years, several license plates have been added to the décor of the restaurant. They heavily decorate the dining room in which Dan is currently sitting.

Dan, who previously worked as a firefighter, wants to bring in a license plate that says NO FYRZ.

“Hopefully, it will be hanging on a wall here someday,” he says.

Consider the lunchtime atmosphere . a full dining room by 1 p.m. . groups replace the lone diners from breakfast . five older men discuss alternative methods for supplying oil … two college-age girls talk about baseball and swimming . ring, ring . one of them stops to answer her cell phone.

A cheese grater hangs back by the corner booth … soap box cars hang overhead . a life-size Elvis with a blue sequined cape stares down at diners from a high platform in the center of the room … Tom Petty sings, “She’s a good girl, loves her mama, loves Jesus and America too”. a first-time customer says the restaurant is “cute.”

Mike, man of the house

Mike Kostensky, owner of Mike’s, grinds up sausage as Chris McIlny, human resources director at Mike’s, puts away stock and cuts up the empty boxes.

“Mike, you got a visitor,” Candi shouts.

“I’ll be right out,” he replies, wiping his hands on his apron.

Chris switches gears and starts plugging away on dishes.

He slides a tray full of dirty dishes into the dishwasher, taking a clean tray out. He pulls the handle down, and the hissing of the dishwasher continues.

Candi takes a step into the kitchen from Server’s Alley and scrapes off a few unfinished plates. She adds them to the growing stack of dishes waiting for the dishwasher.

In Server’s Alley, Lisa grabs a pot of coffee to take out to a table.

Candi remains in the area, filling bottles with syrup. Meanwhile, Mike walks by with a plate of food.

“Hey, is your wife coming in?” Candi asks him.

“I don’t know,” Mike replies.

“Didn’t you just talk to her?”

Mike’s reply is fuzzy as he walks out of the alley.

“Well, you’re going to be my host if I need one,” Candi says to his back.

“Hey Candi, Chuck Norris is the only person who can e-mail a roundhouse kick,” a male employee who insists on being called Pork Chop says through the open window between the kitchen and the alley. The window serves as a holding point for waitresses to pick up orders.

“I can’t top that,” Candi says.

“Last Sunday they wouldn’t make me food until I told them a Chuck Norris fact,” Lisa says to Candi. “So guess what? I didn’t eat last Sunday.”

Consider the outside décor . a homemade life-size X-wing fighter plane . patrons used to put stuffed animals in the cockpit until Mike locked it . barrels of ACME and X-wing Fuel surrounding it . a train car sitting in the grass . a yellow trailer with, “EAT HERE” painted in red.

B4’s up

During a break in orders, Derrec Bailey, “master of the grill” according to the back of his shirt, throws turkey and a bun on the grill for himself.

“Rape Me” by Nirvana starts playing on the radio.

“I like this song,” Damian says. “Turn it up.”

Derrec throws two burgers and two buns on the grill for a carry-out order. He goes to the back and returns with a basket of fries. The printer starts buzzing as the latest order prints. Derrec tears it off and posts it next to the order pick-up point.

He throws on a chicken sandwich and a burger. But at Mike’s, the items aren’t exactly called a chicken sandwich and a burger. The order calls for a Refd Yuppie and a Jr. Daddy. Mike attributes the unique menu to “too many pitchers of Dark and Tans at Mr. Bilbo’s in Akron.”

Damian walks over, grabs a plate and places a bun with bacon and lettuce on top for the Refd Yuppie. Fries and tater tots sit at the order point.

Derrec grabs three carryout boxes, one full of fries and the others with two prepared burgers and takes them out to Server’s Alley for Lisa.

Things are starting to pick up with three orders in progress. The grill is full of burgers, chicken, eggs, potatoes and pancakes. Damian walks in a line down the grill, flipping each order.

Initially, Derrec and Damian were switching jobs, but Damian seems to be settled at the grill, while Derrec is busy finishing orders by the order pick-up point.

“Lisa, B4’s up,” Derrec yells.

Consider the smells . freshly sliced lemons . hamburgers on the grill . crisp bacon . the smell of potatoes being added to the smell of meat that fills the air.

She’s a sexy thing

It’s about 9:30 on a Sunday night, and closing time is quickly approaching.

Food is already scraped from the grill, and the smell of lamb meat and steak starts to disappear. The amount of customers has dwindled down to about eight – most of whom are in the bar.

Server’s Alley is deserted as the servers gather in the kitchen area.

Waitress Michele Bohrer stops in the alley to answer the phone.

“Next week’s schedule? No, it’s not up there yet,” she says to the person on the other line.

Pork Chop puts two quesadillas on the grill. He walks over to the radio and flips through some stations before settling on a song.

“I believe in miracles,” comes from the speakers. “Where you from, you sexy thing?”

“I dedicate this one to Michele because she’s a sexy thing,” Pork Chop says as he walks over to grab a stack of clean plates from the dishwasher.

Consider the menu . acceptable forms of payment . checks, sometimes . credit cards, when they’re not stolen . suits of armor . Excalibur . a variety of food to choose from . “The Walleye that Ate Cleveland” . “Justin Quesadillas,” named after a teen who applied to be a cook, saw the menu and ran out screaming . the “All American Breakfast” for $5.99 . the house rules . “Mike is always right (just don’t ask his wife).” . only Mike or managers may refer to waitresses as serving wenches . make no motorboat noises in your drink.

“So this guy walks into a bar”

Waitress Melinda Stephan walks through the barely lit bar room to a corner table near the Hall of Fame.

“Anything else I can get for you, sir?” she asks as she sets down the receipt.

“One more coffee,” he replies.

“How was your dinner?”


Melinda seems a little unsure of what to say.

“I’m just kidding,” he says. “It was great.”

A smile returns to Melinda’s face.

“I hate when you guys do that,” she replies.

There’s a crowd at the bar watching the Cavaliers play the Bulls. Cavs are up 44-39.

The occasional outburst of laughter and murmur of conversation provide the music in this room.

“If this was a White Russian, that would be fantastic,” Melinda says of the clear soda in her blue plastic cup as she sets it down by a monitor behind the bar.

Consider the bar … a signed Rachael Ray poster hangs by the bar . “To Mike, Great food!!!! Love your place.” . a Browns gym bag and a wooden helmet sign that reads “Kent Browns Backer” sit high above the bar . two thrones sit on a raised platform in the corner to add to the castle theme.

As 10 p.m. rolls around, the staff appears slightly tired and probably eager to get home. But with all the joking they do among both themselves and customers, chances are they’re probably still looking forward to the usual fun during tomorrow night’s shift.

Contact general assignment reporter Denise Wright at [email protected].