Few, if any, can imagine a time when weary travelers, having ventured into the dusty town of Ottawa, Ohio, would have dismounted their trusty steed at the local livery stable, paid the fee, and trudged a block or two in order to down a mug of frothy suds at the local saloon or catch some shuteye at one of the nearby downtown hotels.
Perhaps just a small handful recollects the days of a Sinclair, then ARCO Gas Station, on the site. Historians record the plot of ground briefly inhabited by a car dealership and even a modest candy shop.
Today, little more than the four walls remain of what was most recently Big Daddy’s Lounge – the corner of State Routes 224 and 65 in Ottawa – as this prime real estate has once more changed hands, repurposed for the benefit of locals and sojourners alike.
Rest will still happen, refueling will be offered, and select beverages will be served, but not as before!
The other evening, I cautiously made my way down the alley-turned-drive-thru for allowing me to pull up to the window for what would surely be a hallmark moment.
It was then that I ordered my inaugural “cup of Joe” from new store manager Sandy Sue, and compliments of the business owner, Tom Giesken. For the uninformed, taking its place on the corner is the soon-to-be-christened enterprise called the “Well Grounded Café at the crossroads!”
Signs on the windows of the beautifully renovated building read “Sorry Closed,” as the official ribbon-cutting happens the first of June.
Now inside, I innocently – as an unofficial patron – sauntered to the counter in anticipation of my tasty beverage. Just as I ordered, I was kindly handed a piping-hot 16 oz. cup of freshly brewed coffee coupled with a touch of thick caramel drizzle at the bottom and topped with just a bit of cream.
Surveying the creative and inviting ambiance, I witnessed a handful of baristas-in-training dodging one another under close quarters as they navigated the workspace of a sparkling new espresso machine, coffee grinders, automatic drip coffee makers, blenders, pitchers, sinks, and more.
With coffee in hand, the three of us then made our way to the comfort of a relaxing lounge area, complete with a wall-mounted fireplace. My longtime friend and the congenial owner, affectionately known as Tommy G., was kind enough to carve out time for me to explore the “business at hand.”
No stranger to hard work and heavy-lifting, risk-taking or challenges, Tom has always had a determined entrepreneurial spirit. Something of a fighter-at-heart, he spent much time inside the ropes of plenty of boxing rings and even went a few rounds as a bouncer at a bar in Lima.
It could be argued he’s occasionally attempted to go toe-to-toe with the Almighty, figuratively speaking, of course. As God would have it, a time arrived where Tom ultimately surrendered and “threw in the towel!” Life, for him, and faith, has never been the same!
Ask his wife Patty, now married just under thirty-four years, and she will fondly recall some of Tom’s final matches in a Tough Man Contest in downtown Toledo. Many might find the $1,000 winner’s share enough of an incentive, but Tom added to it by secretly purchasing an engagement ring at Beckman Jewelers prior to the competition. If all went as planned, and thankfully it did, the title’s prize money covered the cost of the ring. True to form, fans hoisted him over the ropes and into the waiting arms of Patty. Bloodied and battered, he proposed, Patty accepted, and, as they say, the rest is history!
Among many successful ventures, Tom may be most recognized as the thoughtful visionary behind the startup of the Putnam County YMCA, along with his building, literally from the ground up, a very profitable billboard company known as Giesken Outdoor Advertising.
A do-it-all kind of guy, and working all angles of that business, he learned and performed everything from leasing properties, writing contracts, digging holes, erecting boards, selling advertising space, to finally hanging the vinyls and programming the digital artwork.
Quietly embedded into the logo of both his lofted eye-catching billboards and his down-to-earth coffee shop, is a subtle but nevertheless noticeable symbol of a cross. Pugilism may run deep, but now Tom is most interested in “fighting the good fight of faith” as a heart for Christ and a genuine love for others is always on display!
Driven to do whatever it takes to finish the job, like wire-brushing every inch of old ceiling rafters to pounding the cement floor with a jackhammer, Tom equally knows the value of friends, family, skilled contractors, and others who step up to lend a needed helping hand.
Tears may well up in his eyes calling to mind the many generous contributions of time and talent serving to bring the Well Grounded Café to fruition. Counted highly among them all are his dear friends and owners of Coffee Amici in Findlay, who provided hours of expertise and training for the new baristas.
Ask and he’ll tell you it’s not a dream come true so much as a vision and a commitment realized. Literally, Tom’s prayer will be that everyone who steps up to the counter or pulls up to the drive-thru window would know the “Well Grounded Café will strive to establish a welcoming, friendly atmosphere serving all with a Christian culture that’s uplifting for everyone. We are committed to making a quality product while providing excellent customer service.”
By Ken Pollitz
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at email@example.com