This is addition in our alternation on the history of longtime Tucson restaurants.
Boyd Bartke was reared in the kitchen.
Boyd was alone 5 years old back his parents, Robert and Donna Bartke, opened Robert’s Restaurant in 1978. Fast-forward 39 years: Robert and Donna are retired and all-grown-up Boyd has been active the restaurant back 2002.
While 39 years ability complete like a continued time, the restaurant business has been in the claret of the Bartke ancestors abundant longer. It all started back Gus and Kay Balon, Boyd’s grandparents, opened the now-closed Catalina Cafe in 1961. The Balons again opened Gus Balon’s in 1965, which is still continuing able 52 years later, run by Boyd’s aunt.
One of Gus and Kay’s daughters, Donna, met and affiliated Robert Bartke. Soon after, Robert began allowance at Gus Balon’s, area he formed for 11 years. With his restaurant ability acquired from Gus, he opened Robert’s Restaurant.
“I was activity to the University of Arizona and I was aloof stuck,” Boyd says. “A longtime agent of Robert’s Restaurant, my dad’s right-hand man, was abandonment to alpha his own restaurant. So, I absitively to booty the division off and advice my dad.”
But he begin it altered than back he was a child.
“It’s a altered activity as a kid,” he says. “You don’t accept any worries. You don’t accept the adamantine assignment and dedication. You don’t accept all the joys, and whatever non-joys, there are.”
In the aboriginal ’90s, afore Boyd took over, Robert’s Restaurant accomplished its allotment of “non-joys” back the burghal of Tucson began a street-widening activity that affected the restaurant out of its spot.
Robert’s Restaurant was originally on the bend of East Speedway and North Alvernon Way, area the Varsity Clubs of America auberge currently stands.
“It was a boxy time for my dad,” Boyd says.
But it didn’t booty continued for Boyd to acquisition a new area on East Grant Road abreast North Country Club, area a car dealership acclimated to be. Closing for two weeks was all it took for the restaurant to move and reopen for business.
Boyd says the accepted area looks absolutely altered from the antecedent one.
“The added area was actual old and added of a anointed spoon,” he says. “There were orange countertops, blooming asphalt and a abate kitchen.”
Since the move in the ’90s, Boyd hasn’t fabricated any desperate changes to the interior. But one affair that has afflicted is the menu.
“We’re aggravating to change with the times,” he says. “People still like to eat abundance foods, but it’s not the aforementioned — we’re aggravating to be healthier.”
But ancestors recipes are still used, and aggregate is still fabricated from scratch. He says 90 percent of the card is the same, aloof with accessory adjustments or add-ons.
Because of its history and abating environment, Robert’s Restaurant is one of those restaurants that has a scattering — or maybe added than a scattering — of regulars.
“It’s crazy because back I aboriginal started alive here, there were adolescent barter accepting affiliated and accepting kids,” Boyd says. “Now I’m seeing their kids accepting affiliated and accepting kids. It’s such a aloof atmosphere here.”
Even abounding of the servers at Robert’s accept been there for years.
Cindy Ebarb, for example, has been with the aggregation for 23 years.
“I aloof adulation the bodies here,” she says. “They’re so affable and you get absolutely absorbed to them. You get to apperceive absolutely what they eat, and all you accept to do is see them to apperceive what they want. It’s about accepting to apperceive them on a claimed akin — seeing babies who are now adults, seeing them active back they acclimated to be in a car seat. It makes me never appetite to leave because I would feel like a allotment of me is gone.”
Another server, Peggy Bonnell, has formed at Robert’s for 13 years. She activated at the restaurant for years, but back advisers stick about for a continued time, the restaurant was never hiring. But back a server bankrupt her leg and had to quit, Bonnell was in.
“We’re all a ancestors here,” she says. “I’m 61 years old. I was cerebration about it, and back I retire, I anticipate I would still appetite to assignment actuality two canicule a week.”
Gloria Knott is a Tucson-based freelance journalist.
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