A Kokomo-native is giving the community a dose of nostalgia with a historical fiction novel that takes place at the once-beloved Hob-Nob Annex Café.
Published last year, Jennifer Lynn Cary’s “Tales of the Hob-Nob Annex Café” recounts partially-true stories from a very true place that her parents owned while she was a child. Though Cary has lived in Arizona since high school, Kokomo continues to be the centerpiece in many of the author’s novels.
“Arizona is home, but Kokomo is my hometown. I love my memories of Kokomo. It was a lovely place to grow up,” Cary said.
Her father, Dick Goodell, fought in World War II, and he married her mother, Fran, soon after he returned home. He began taking classes at Illinois State University, but he realized he wasn’t a student. So Cary’s uncle, Butch Johnson, who was from Kokomo and owned The Hob-Nob Café on Markland Avenue, made him an offer.
He told Goodell that if he moved to Kokomo and worked for him for six months and learned the business that he would set him up his own café. Goodell took him up on the offer, and on Oct. 19, 1951, The Hob-Nob Annex Café opened on East Morgan Street with Goodell at the helm.
Though Cary was just 9 when her dad eventually sold the restaurant in November 1963, she spent all of her early years there. In “Tales of the Hob-Nob Annex Café,” Cary tells stories she remembered from her time there, but since she was just a child when they happened, the stories themselves are fiction, though based in fact.
“For the first part of my life, that’s really all I knew, and I mention a lot of people who really did come in. And technically, if you want to be really specific, things really happened, but I put my own twist on them. Going back, considering how young I was, the memories of what somebody said, it definitely is fiction,” Cary said.
The novel’s characters include well-known Kokomo figureheads like the late Bob Sergeant, a former mayor and sheriff who died in 2019; and the late Dr. Frederick Schwartz, an “old-fashioned family doctor who enjoyed making house calls,” according to his 2010 obituary.
As early as kindergarten, Cary remembered working in the café. She’d stand on a box so she could grill a hamburger or fry an egg on the large grill. She remembered getting to peel countless potatoes and cut them in the French fry cutter and popping the cap off of glass soda bottles, pouring the soda into glasses with ice, and serving them to customers.
“It was a tight kitchen. I remember it being tight, but to me the sinks were big. The grill was big,” she said.
Because of the limited space, when the café got busy, her dad would usher her and her sister out the back door, which led to an alley and a woman named Ruth’s backyard. Cary and her sister would play in Ruth’s yard until the rushes would slow down. But even playing outside during those times, Cary remembered always waiting eagerly to be able to go back to the café.
There was a cigarette machine on the back wall of the restaurant, and customers would hand Cary a dime or quarter to fetch them packs of cigarettes. When her dad found out she was doing it, though, he put a stop to it.
She also fondly remembered the café’s jukebox and twirling in her skirts to the music. When records stopped being played much, she’d get to have them, and she said she had quite the collection of 45s for a while.
She also remembered KFC’s Colonel Harland Sanders visiting her dad’s restaurant. During that time, she said Sanders would drive from place to place with the idea of starting a franchise. He’d talk with restaurant owners, hoping they’d sign with him. Sanders, however, was adamant that the restaurant owners would have to use Sanders’ menu, and her dad wasn’t interested in that.
“My dad said the chicken was great. [Sanders] was a nice, wonderful guy to work with, but he wanted control of his menu. So he decided not to do it,” Cary said.
Eventually, her parents decided to sell the restaurant. Their family was growing, and the annex was open for 24-hours for a while. Her dad would handle the midnight shifts, and she remembered him always coming home and crashing. Wanting to spend time with him, she’d stay up until midnight and beg her mom to let her go to work with her dad. It drove her mother crazy, she said.
Cary would have been part of the 100th graduating class from Kokomo High School, but she became part of the first class to go through all four years at Apollo High School in Glendale, Arizona instead. The main reason for the move, Cary said, was that their family was looking for a fresh start. Race riots had been going on in Kokomo, and Cary’s mother died in 1970. Her dad remarried in 1971.
“My dad had arthritis, and my brother had some special needs involved. It wasn’t major, but he was one of the Rubella babies from the epidemic. He had some eye problems, and they wanted to see if maybe they can get some better help out here. My stepmom had family out here, and so they just felt, all in all, it was a brand-new start,” Cary said.
Though Kokomo has been out of sight for Cary, it hasn’t been out of mind after all of these years. With “Tales of The Hob-Nob Annex Café,” the author hopes it brings back warm memories to those who lived them as well.
“I wrote Hob-Nob kind of as a love letter to my hometown I knew growing up, and I think that’s what I want people to take away, that maybe it kind of touches their hearts, touches a memory, helps them remember good times and that they can see that it’s just been a really good place to be,” Cary said.
It did just that for one Kokomo resident. For years, Marty Getz had been trying to remember the name of a café her late father would take her to when she was a child. In 2011, she moved her elderly parents in with her, and she kept asking her father, “Can’t you think of the name of that restaurant? I loved that,” Getz said.
He could never remember, though, and he died the day after the tornado in 2016. Later, one of Getz’s coworkers told her the name of the restaurant she loved must have been The Hob-Nob. Getz began searching for information about it online, but she only could find information on The Hob-Nob that was on Markland Avenue, and she knew the one she went to was on East Morgan Street.
One day, while on the Kokomo Perspective’s website, she came across an article written by the late Tom Hamilton, who wrote historical columns for the paper for years, and it mentioned The Hob-Nob Annex Café. With the correct name in hand, Getz searched online for more information and came across Cary’s book. She ordered a copy, and then she ordered six more.
She said it was a trip back in time to read about the restaurant that meant so much to her. Growing up, she said she had the best of both worlds. Her mother worked second shift at Haynes Stellite, so Getz would spend most of the day with her before her mother would take her to her grandparents’ house. Her father, Bill Getz, who worked first shift at Delco, would pick her up when he got off work at 5 p.m., and he’d take her to one of three local restaurants.
Her favorite was The Hob-Nob Annex Café.
“I always loved to go there. I preferred it to the other two restaurants. I liked the atmosphere, and my dad was always glad that he could get me picked up and get there before the crowd got there,” she said.
Getz was glad to have come across the book that has so much information about a spot that meant so much to her. In fact, her house is painted brown with green shutters — just like how she remembered The Hob-Nob Annex Café looking.
“The Hob-Nob Annex Café” can be purchased on Amazon for $4.99.