Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about long-running, locally owned restaurants in Topeka.
The more potent the smell of the onions, the better the onion rings are going be.
“It’s a trade-off,” Richard Marsh Jr., owner of Bobo’s at S.W. 10th and MacVicar, said with tears in his eyes and a big smile on his face. “The pain and suffering is worth it.”
Before he and his wife, Tricia, bought the iconic burger joint in 2007, Marsh said he had no restaurant experience. He said he went from working virtually alone, owning and operating his own auto maintenance business, to being responsible for about 20 employees literally overnight.
“I came from cars. People have joked that I went from one oil to another,” Marsh said. “I was so scared. But then I said, ‘OK, I can do this.’ I came in with the attitude, ‘teach me how to do it the Bobo’s way.’ ”
Marsh said the success of Bobo’s, first opened by Bob Bobo in 1948 at S.W. Huntoon and Lincoln and then the second location at S.W. 10th and MacVicar in 1953, lies in keeping the same food items on the menu year after year.
“We don’t change any of our staples,” he said. “We’re slow to change things.”
Marsh said Bobo’s double cheeseburgers, Spanish burgers and apple pie continue to be popular choices.
Jovita Mendoza, nicknamed the “pie lady,” started working at Bobo’s first location on Huntoon until it closed and then moved to S.W. 10th and MacVicar where she has been making apple pies in the diner’s basement for more than 22 years.
“It’s easy, like doing it with my eyes closed,” Mendoza said. “I enjoy my job and the employees. That’s what keeps me going.”
Sharing a piece of Mendoza’s pie recently were Alfhild Larson, of Halifax, Canada, and Alec Morris, of Kansas City, Mo.
Larson, who grew up in the capital city, said a visit to the diner named one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas” in 2008 is mandatory.
“Whenever we come to Topeka, stopping at Bobo’s is a must,” she said. “Our mother loved the pie. That’s a real compliment coming from my mom.”
Larson said Bobo’s is also special to her because in 1968 she was sitting in a booth at the diner when she found out her brother Eric Larson’s band, the Burlington Express, was going to be opening for The Who in Kansas City.
Marlene Friesendahl, of Topeka, said she and her husband, Lee, have to get to Bobo’s by about 11 a.m. if they want to get a seat for lunch inside the small diner that is also a drive-in. She said she remembers going to Bobo’s first location on Huntoon in the late 1950s with her roommates.
“We lived in an apartment on Lincoln about a block and a half away,” she said. “If we didn’t cook, we pooled our money and walked to Bobo’s.”
While Bobo’s has garnered a lot of media attention in recent years, Marsh said having Food Network’s Guy Fieri shoot a segment for his “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” show that aired in 2008 was stressful and exhilarating.
“When we got the call that they were going to be here in about a week and a half, we kind of panicked,” Marsh said, adding that Bobo’s was undergoing a major floor remodel at the time. “It was our moment in the spotlight, and we had runners on the floors.”
Despite the chaos, Marsh said shooting the segment with Fieri was fun for him and Tricia, the employees and the customers.
“His personality is just like it is on the show,” he said. “He’s witty and challenges you.”