Thursday, April 13, 2000

Fire can't dampen cafe owners' spirits

Pals pitch in to help reopen gathering place

BY Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For nostalgic reasons, some like to refer to Penny and Phil's Sports Cafe as the South Fairmount Country Club: a gathering place, an after-work common man's resort and a place where nobody is a stranger.

        That is the image owners Phil Horn and Penny Fryman are trying to preserve.

        The cafe on Queen City Avenue is closed now be cause of $70,000 in damages caused by a fire to its pool room two weeks ago. Arson investigators have said the fire was deliberately set.

        Mr. Horn hopes they will reopen a part of the cafe this weekend.

        “We have to get approved by the board of health and get the utilities connected,” he said.

        For more than 30 years, the cafe has touched practically everybody's life in South Fairmount and has been the sounding board for a changing neighborhood.

        South Fairmount residents didn't just gather there for social entertainment. They gathered there to plan picnics, parades, Little League baseball and cleanup campaigns.

        “At one time the San Antonio Church held Mass there while its church building was under construction,” Mr. Horn said.

        Tim Thompson, 43, of Dent, said the cafe was like

        a reunion hall.

        “It was a neighborhood place where buddies went to talk about football and baseball scores and see friends you wouldn't see anyplace else,” Mr. Thompson said. “We applaud Phil for trying to bring back that image. It is tough luck that they had the fire.”

        Mr. Thompson and his sister, Melanie Thompson are planning a benefit for the cafe at 5 p.m. April 25.It will be at the cafe.

        The cafe reflected the stable demographics of South Fairmount, but much of that stability shattered in the 1960s and '70s.

        “It is a shame because this was such a great neighborhood,” Mr. Horn said. “We had two banks, three drugstores and five grocery stores. But that changed. Maybe it was because Queen City became a one-way street or maybe the work on the Western Hills Viaduct.”

        Mr. Horn, 45, and Mrs. Fry man, 39, didn't like what was happening to the lovable country club and neighborhood where they grew up. They bought the cafe three years ago.

        “I am a chef, but I got out of that business and started taking a course in social work at Mount St. Joseph (College) with the hopes that I could help save the neighborhood,” Mr. Horn said.

        Mrs. Fryman said the cafe had been the heartbeat of the community and she didn't want to witness the deterioration.

        “We felt we had to step in and help revive our neighborhood,” she said. “One way was to be in a position to offer our kids another alternative.”

        Their biggest project has been raising funds to support Little League baseball.

        “We run an equipment program where we urge people to bring in baseball equipment. We use it for the teams. What we don't use, we sell and use the money to support the teams,” Mrs. Fryman said.

        Mrs. Fryman is night manager at Hooligan's Pub and Eatery in Columbia Township.

        Penny and Phil's Sports Cafe has been the nucleus of Little League baseball in South Fairmount for three years, said Bill Godfrey, director of South Fairmount Community Center.

        “They sponsor our two teams,” Mr. Godfrey said. “They are bringing the neighborhood back. At Christmas time, they bring in a truck full of toys and food for the neighborhood kids. Out here in South Fairmount, they are like two local people who made it good and came back to help the neighborhood.”

        Mrs. Fryman said the Christmas truck contains a variety of items, including food, toys, clothing, money and anything they can get their hands on.

        “This is our little corner of the world. We want to make it the best for our people,” she said.


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