CINCINNATI -- Happy birthday to the Gregory family on the occasion of the Montgomery Inn Boathouse’s 25 years in business.
Were Ted 'The Ribs King' Gregory alive to celebrate it, I’m certain he would have some views on Cincinnati subsidizing competitors at the Banks. Especially considering how the Boathouse launched in March 1988.
It was a bright, sunny day but still chilly with a stiff breeze coming off the river. So all the dignitaries, luminaries and assorted flunkies who gravitated to the legendary restaurateur were thankful for the large closed tent erected on the Eastern Avenue site, shielding attendees from the elements.
As often happened in those days, I was delayed and arrived late for the groundbreaking. Making my way to the ceremony, I happened upon Ted’s wife Matula and it was obvious she was not swept up in the excitement of the occasion.
“Hi, Mrs. Gregory, how are you?”
“Not too good Denny. Not good at all,” she offered.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
“Not really,'' she replied and then began to elaborate on her fit of pique.
“I told Ted: 'We don’t know these people down here.' I wanted to expand in Montgomery,'' holding a piece of paper in her hand. “But no, Ted wants to come down here and risk all this and put up with this kind of stuff.”
That stuff was revealed when I pressed her further.
“You see this Denny,'' said said, extending the official looking missive for me to see. “You know what that is?”
“No ma'am, what is it?”
She replied: “It’s a citation from the city, fining us $60 for putting up that tent without a permit."
I was mortified -- for not just Mrs. Gregory, but for my city.
Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to soil the groundbreaking of a major downtown development?
We quickly found out not ‘who’ but at least the mindset that led to such an intrusion on what was to be a festive occasion.
At just that moment, the late Nell Surber, who at the time was the economic development director for the city of Cincinnati, strolled into our midst.
“Excuse me, Ms. Surber,” I blurted, “maybe you can help us here. This is Mrs. Gregory. Mrs. Gregory, I’d like you to meet Nell Surber.”
“Nell, Mrs. Gregory was given a summons for putting up the tent without a permit. I’m sure it was an overreach by someone and that you’d like to take care of it.”
To which Ms. Surber replied: “Oh, that’s too bad but I don’t know what I can do.”
I offered a suggestion: “Make it go away."
Her stunning comeback, “Well I really can’t do that,'' whereupon she blithely joined the gaggle of politicos inside the offending tent, gorging themselves on free ribs while slaking their thirst with complimentary beverages.
I turned to Mrs. Gregory and offered another suggestion: “You know Mrs. Gregory, you’re right. You should send all these people a bill for what they’ve consumed and expand in Montgomery. I’m sorry but we probably aren’t worthy of having you and your family do business down here.”
Had Mrs. Gregory gone in that tent and explained her dilemma, I’m sure an auction would have ensued among Ted’s well-heeled and/or well lubricated pals, to the great embarrassment of city fathers and mothers.
That didn’t happen though. Nor did the episode daunt the Gregorys plans to anchor the eastern corridor to Downtown.
We are all the better for their forbearance.
And, that's my 2 cents.
Dennis Janson's "My 2 cents" column is published every Monday and Wednesday on WCPO.com. His video commentary airs every Friday at 6 p.m.