By Ohio.org Staff
Posted On: Jul 20, 2020
The best part of any road trip is the stops you make on the way. It’s the journey, not the destination, right? Every traveler is looking for those memorable points on the map: roadside attractions, historic markers, favorite diners and coffee shops and bakeries dotting Ohio’s communities.
At the intersection of Ohio routes 16 and 310 — that’s Broad Street and Main Street locally – sits a one-story yellow-sided and red brick building. It looks unassuming from the outside, but the collection of cars lining the parking lot tell you that something special is happening inside, and the moment you step through the door, you’ll know why.
25 years of celebrating the 1950s
With more than 25 years under their belt, the Butcher family has been welcoming regulars and newcomers alike to their 1950s-style diner, the Nutcracker Family Restaurant. Nancy and Steve Sr. first opened the business in downtown Pataskala in 1995 as Nutcracker Sweets, and a couple years later found the spot on Broad Street to expand from candies and desserts into breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ll still find Steve Sr. and Nancy around the eatery on occasion, and nowadays you’ll see their son Steve Jr. and his wife Kim keep things humming.
The Butchers’ diner is a time capsule capturing the fun and nostalgia of the 1950s. Even if you’re a long-time regular, it’s hard not to be awed by the detailed décor. Bright neon signs glow with "Service Station" or "Step back to the 50s." Giant vintage Coca-Cola signs dangle from the ceiling. The servers’ station at the end of the bar is modeled after an old gas pump. A half-sized model of a gleaming red 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air hangs on the main dining room wall.
The experience goes beyond simply the décor. The Nutcracker takes you back to all the cultural fun of the 1950s. The decals surrounding the wall-mounted television make it look like a drive-in movie theater, so the TV seems to shine like an outdoor silver screen. Bring dimes to feed the working 1950s jukebox and listen to Buddy Holly, Elvis and Chuck Berry. Pump quarters into the antique horse the kids can ride.
And they don’t call it the Nutcracker for nothing! Lining every available surface are nutcrackers of all types: tall ones and short ones, stout ones and skinny ones, and nutcrackers dressed like Santa, snowmen, chefs, firemen and Brutus Buckeye. It would take multiple visits to the diner just to discover every nutcracker.
The Nutcracker is unmistakably a classic American diner, too, with black-and-white checkered floors, red vinyl booths with swirling decorations on the tabletops, chrome plating on the walls and friendly service that welcomes you in, whether it’s your first time or your 50th.
Remember how the Nutcracker started as a candy shop? It still is! Multiple generations relive the 50s by snacking on vintage treats. Grandparents can introduce their kids and grandkids to old favorites like candy buttons, Astro Pops, clove and blackjack gum, candy necklaces and wax pop bottles.
Award-winning home cooking
When you squeeze into one of the red vinyl booths and grab a big menu, you already know what you’re in for: a heaping plate of comfort food, the type of hearty meals that bring back memories of gathering
with family around the dinner table. Of family staples like meatloaf, country fried steak, corned beef hash, towering sandwiches and fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy.
Whether you visit for breakfast or dinner, stop at the dessert case to ogle at the homemade pies. Nancy’s earned accolades for her pies and has shared her expertise with Kim. In 2016, General Mills awarded Nancy’s chocolate Snickers candy bar cookie pie top prize, and in 2019 she was again honored for her double decker banana cake. But you won’t need those awards to convince you. Just carve out a bite with the side of your fork and you’ll want to order a second dessert to go.
Why the regulars love it
The Butchers give back to their community. Three members of the family are veterans — Steve Sr., Steve Jr. and Nancy — and honoring military service is of upmost important to them. They offer free meals to veterans and active military personnel on Veterans Day and the day after Memorial Day. Come those days, even if you’re not a veteran, to share your thanks. Many veterans make the Nutcracker a regular stop, a place to gather and swap stories over a cup of coffee and plate of breakfast.
If ever there was a question that the Pataskala community loves the Butchers and their restaurant, it was answered in January 2005 when the restaurant sadly burned to the ground. The Butchers were able to salvage a single Winnie-the-Pooh nutcracker, and as they rebuilt, community members stepped in to help clean, rebuild, hold fundraisers and — you guessed it — collect new nutcrackers!
Kendra Conkle and her family have been regulars at the Nutcracker for several years. Her 10-year-old son Levi started a tradition of getting dinner there with his dad every Thursday night. "They sit at the bar and he gets the same thing every time," she says, "a plain cheeseburger, French fries and a sweet tea. They have the same waitress, Hope. They know him by name. He doesn’t even have to order."
"It’s a nice little hometown small business," she adds. "It’s a feel-good place to go."
Deb and Mike Manley are a regular fixture at the Nutcracker. When asked how often they go, Deb laughs and says, "Sometimes it’s every morning – occasionally we’ll go twice." The Manleys have taught their grandkids Tristan, Carys and Zaylor to love the diner, too. "We love the atmosphere and the old time ambiance," Deb says. "The people that work there are like family."
As regulars, they’ve sampled much of the menu, and recommend everything from the burgers to the fish, the sausage gravy and biscuits to the deep fried chicken sandwiches. For desserts, Deb suggests the double crust apple pie. "Their food is great," she adds. "We haven’t found anything we wouldn’t get again."
And the bonus of having a candy shop attached? The grandkids are promised a sweet treat if they clean their plates.
There’s a little romance about the Nutcracker, too. It’s been the site of first dates for couples of all ages. Annette Callahan and Bob Harvey, both in their 80s, had known each other since high school; their last date, in fact, was at prom! After 60 years apart, they found each other and rekindled their relationship, going on a "first" date at the Nutcracker Family Restaurant. They eventually got married in October 2019, and chose to hold their reception at the Nutcracker. They danced with family and friends before cutting into a black-and-white checkered "Just Married" cake with a fondant record on the top.
The Nutcracker Family Restaurant is a place where memories are made. And even if you’re just passing through, you’ll walk out the doors feeling like family.