For 65 years, Plaza Inn has served up country comfort food. (Photos courtesy of David Wagner)

Perhaps the most unique thing about the Plaza Inn Family Restaurant & Catering in Mt. Victory, Ohio, pop. 641, is the ways non-local customers arrive for a meal.

While the town is more than 30 miles from the nearest interstate highway, the two-lane road it sits on, State Route 31, is the fastest way to get from Columbus to Detroit. A popular transportation route, truckers often park their rigs in a 3-acre lot on the way through town.

Just a few feet from the trucks, likely at least one — and sometimes as many as six — small planes wait in the neighboring field for their pilots to finish eating. The Plaza Inn owners cleared a 2,900-foot grass landing strip in the former cornfield surrounding the restaurant in 1992 (identifier: Elliot’s Landing). It is used by guests from crop dusters to lawyers to members of the Ohio National Guard.

This intrepid diner flew in and camped at the Plaza Inn air field. (Photo courtesy of David Wagner)

“It is challenging being in the middle of a cornfield, but grandpa was a visionary who foresaw the amount of traffic on this road,” said owner and chef David Wagner in an interview with the Deesmealz.

Mt. Victory is a one stoplight town known for agriculture, antique shops, and its Old Order Amish community. Wagner’s grandfather first opened a 24-hour truck stop here, and in 1959 he added a 42-seat diner. The Plaza Inn now seats 200 and is open three meals a day, five days a week. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it is the only spot in the surrounding area to go out for a sit-down meal on Mondays.

The Plaza Inn in an earlier era. (Photo courtesy of David Wagner)

The restaurant has served a lot of the same country comfort food for 65 years. Classics like broasted chicken, the trucker special steak burger, and the salad bar with 13 made-in-house choices, according to Wagner, “date back to the beginning of time.”

It’s hard not to find something that appeals on the extensive menu. Breakfast choices, like country fried steak, biscuits and gravy, a taco omelet, and fresh baked cinnamon rolls, are served all day and on a weekend buffet.

Lunch options include pizzas, salads, and soups. Also, handhelds (sandwiches): a BLT, pulled pork on a pretzel bun, a Reuben with housemade sweet kraut. Dinner time brings liver with mushrooms, meatloaf, rack of ribs, wild-caught perch, and chicken with noodles. For dessert, choose pie, whether coconut or banana cream or the day’s fruit pie.

While Wagner celebrates the classic elements of the restaurant that have stood the test of time, he is not afraid to make changes. In 2018, he started South County BBQ to add some flavor variety to the menu. During Covid, he turned the former banquet room into The Dealership Bar and Restaurant decorated with vintage automobile memorabilia. It serves cocktails, liquor, craft beers, and Bokes Creek Wine, from a winery just a few miles up route 31. It also hosts special events like live weekly bands and cornhole.

The restaurant sells drinks from the local Bokes Creek Winery.
Chef David Wagner added barbecue to the menu in 2018. (Photos courtesy of Wagner)

“You have to be diverse to hit what everybody likes,” he said. “I am trying to draw a little younger crowd.”

Even though the Plaza Inn has always been a family business, Wagner’s route to ownership was not direct. Twelve of the thirteen grandchildren, including him, worked there growing up but most moved on after high school. He returned briefly as a young adult but decided working in a family restaurant was not for him.

Or at least, the family part was not for him. After serving in the Navy, Wagner used the GI bill to earn an Associate’s Degree in International Cooking. He spent three months in Italy at a restaurant that made fresh pasta and bread every day. With that experience, he tried to return to the Plaza again in 2014, but still there was too much family strife to stay.

Within a couple of years, though, a vacancy in leadership occurred. His uncle and mother had been managing the place since 1992; in the span of a few months, he passed away and she suffered a stroke. Wagner stepped in to help out, and this time stayed. He became the owner in 2018.

While there have been a number of challenges over the years, Wagner said his biggest concern now is finding staff. He used to have a running stack of applications but now, with competition from nearby factories, he’s lucky to get one a month. He had to shutter a short-lived food truck because of a lack of workers.

His thoughts for those who want to own a rural restaurant? “My advice is to stay consistent, be willing to adapt to changes as generations move, and remember that bigger is not always better,” he said.

The Plaza Inn is the kind of place that feels like a big family. Five of Wagner’s employees have been working there over 30 years, longer than he has. Their warm interactions with customers are part of what brings locals and passing-through truck drivers back again and again.

 “Grandfather wanted a relaxing, comfortable atmosphere that was like eating at his own table in his own home,” he said. “I think we still have that.”

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