Aladdin: A Granville landmark

While restaurants, shops and banks come and go along Broadway, Aladdin remains virtually untouched by time.

Story by Mia Fischel
Photos and videos by Andrew Theophilus

In a bright pink t-shirt and matching pink hair-tie, Wendy Spires lays bacon on a grill before stepping outside to flip on the glowing neon “open” sign. 

An iconic Granville sign at the Broadway curb also lights up: “Aladdin: FINE FOOD.”

It’s 6:45 a.m. The bacon is sizzling, and the cozy space between the grill and the counter is swallowed up in a steamy fog that follows Spires as she turns on the coffeemaker, rolls the silverware in napkins, washes dishes and preps fresh beef for the upcoming burger-for-lunch rush. She makes herself a breakfast of eggs and toast and throws on an apron.

Aladdin has been a village landmark for decades, and some customers have remained loyal to the diner since it was their high-school hangout in the 1940s and ‘50s. 

While restaurants, shops and banks come and go along Broadway, Aladdin remains virtually untouched by time. It closed temporarily in 2010 and reopened under new ownership in 2011, and it weathered the COVID shutdown in 2020. But not much has changed: It’s the quintessential diner, complete with cramped, red-vinyl bench seats in booths, black-and-white tile flooring and artwork depicting small-town Americana. 

An hour after opening, the first customers walk in. 

Wearing a Denison University sweatshirt, Gary Fleisner’s eyes sweep over the restaurant. It’s the first time the 32-year-old has stepped inside in more than 10 years. Last time, he was a Denison anthropology student, and now he’s an employee in the alumni office.

Fleisner was an early-riser in college, oftentimes waking up from “naps” at 3 a.m. to finish papers, after which he would make himself breakfast. These days, he typically doesn’t go for breakfast, so he doesn’t mind that the person he is meeting is 20 minutes late. It gives him more time to reminisce and scan the menu.

Good Morning Columbus airs on the TV, muting his conversation. The morning news includes the usual stories of voting issues, shootings, murder investigations, and the weather forecast.

The door creaks again, and Michael Amiet of Granville walks confidently into the restaurant, past the “Please wait to be seated” sign on the host table and settles into a booth near the back.

“Were you waiting on the guys? Want something to drink while you wait?” Spires asked.

“Coffee,” he responds. 

Amiet’s shirt reads “beekeeper (farmer + crazy)” above a bee graphic. In his minimal free time, he tends to the bees at his home. He frets about the task of eventually transferring the hives to the new house he and his father are building.

Michael works as a nurse anesthetist at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s Hospital in Westerville, a taxing job that pulls him away from his bees for two to three 24-hour shifts a week. His shift just ended. He is exhausted.

The coffee is delivered with a cheerful, “Here ya go, hun,” and he takes a sip. Too bitter for his taste. He adds one sugar packet, then another.

Rob Amiet, Michael’s father, arrives and they briefly embrace before Rob slides into the inner booth seat. Carl Miller, the last member of their party, arrives shortly after. For years, the three men have met weekly at Aladdin on Thursday mornings.

“We like to discuss world problems,” Rob said with a laugh directed toward Carl, his old church-going buddy. At 72 and 69, the friends are both retired but often volunteer after breakfast with the Peace Methodist Church in Pickerington, building wheelchair ramps for people who can’t afford them.

“They have a huge program loading up medical equipment, beds, wheelchairs, commodes, all of that stuff,” Rob said.

Nearby at the counter, perhaps listening in on the conversation in the booth, a lone man in a green shirt and work pants sits on a barstool. He eats his toast and scrambled eggs quietly and quickly, not looking down at his phone but staring off into the distance, or at least at the kitchen wall a few feet away.

Another waitress walks in and greets the man with a slight southern lilt. She wears a tie-dye shirt and sports a baseball cap, even while indoors. Gliding from table to table, she fills coffee mugs – on the house, of course, because it would be too difficult to remember otherwise.

It’s mid-morning, and all of the booths in the restaurant are filled with regulars – a couple celebrating their anniversary and employees from neighboring businesses holding meetings or just grabbing a cup of Joe. 

For Granville residents Leah Hrebluk and Nathan “Tugboat” Kirk, this trip to Aladdin is a celebration of another kind. It’s a celebration of their love of breakfast. They often travel central Ohio in pursuit of good food. 

Kirk enjoys living in Ohio for its classic diners like this one, and for its open roads, perfect for riding motorcycle-riding, a hobby he picked up in high school. 

He orders the French toast. Hrebluk orders the western omelet, minus mushrooms. She typically wakes at 5 a.m. every morning to get the kids off to school, and then works for her startup house-cleaning service later in the day, so this is her time to recover.

John Klaus of Granville sits a few tables away, flipping through photos of his dog while he waits for his business partner. His family consists of a long line of Denison grads, but not himself, as is apparent by his blue Kansas Jayhawks sweatshirt. 

Fourteen years living in small-town Ohio and working for the Granville Recreation District has him deeply rooted in the community. Andy Wildman, who soon joins him, is the executive director of the organization.

“I really like the small-town feel. … Andy and I organize the Turkey Trot (Thanksgiving Day fundraising run) and the Granville games on July 4th,” Klaus said.

It’s a special occasion when Klaus and Wildman eat at Aladdin, but other long-term customers are there regularly.

Next to the window near the front door, the Amiets ring up their receipt after a good hour of chatting. There’s an exchange of bills and the waitress shuffles through coins in the register, clinking a few into the palm of her hand.

Then it’s a cordial exchange of “have a nice day” and “see y’all later” as the men cross the threshold onto Broadway and look forward to next Thursday morning.

Mia Fischel writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is sponsored in part by the Mellon Foundation and donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.