“Ken” Bockbrader was a no-nonsense guy, especially when he hired bartenders.
“What he’d do is hire somebody and give them a drink book and then leave,” recalled Jim Bockbrader, the third of Ken and Martha Bockbrader’s four children. “He said either they made it or they didn’t. You either got it or you don’t, I guess.”
Just like his old man, Jim Bockbrader speaks his mind. Maybe with a little more tact than Dad, and definitely with a little bit more country charm.
“My dad was a military staff sergeant,” Bockbrader said. “He was tough, but fair. He was German. He had a bad back and bad wheels. His brother, Lowell, had The Edgewood restaurant near Fostoria.”
Jim Bockbrader, who turns 56 in November, started working at The Forks when he was 10. His mother worked there, too, making pies and doing the dishes or whatever it took, for more than 10 years.
Bockbrader’s brother, Steve, who is seven years to the day (Nov. 20) older than Jim, pulled work detail at The Forks. Their sisters, Nancy and Mary, were waitresses and worked in the kitchen as well.
Back in the day, Jim Bockbrader said it was nothing for him to work 60-70 hours a week at the family restaurant.
“I started cleaning up on Sundays,” he said. “Then it moved to Saturdays in the summertime, when I wasn't in school.”
Bockbrader has tended bar – his dad taught him to make drinks – at The Forks for 35 years.
“Probably too long,” he chuckled. “I just enjoy it. I enjoyed being around people.”
Bockbrader said he knows what makes a good bartender – “Good service, I guess” – and he usually gets a feel for what his customers want to talk about, if anything.
“I talk about whatever they want to talk about,” he said. “We talk about politics and what else is going on. You just talk to people. I’m a little bit of everything. You have to keep yourself open-minded and just take care of business.
“If you're listening and doing a good job, people see that. I see people walk in and I start making their drinks. I can remember their drinks better than I can remember their names. I know where they sit. You show you care. That's just the way it should be done.”
In 1980, five years after Ken Bockbrader passed away of a heart attack at age 58, the Bockbrader family sold The Forks to George Simon from Toledo.
“We got it paid off and it got to be a lot of work,” Bockbrader said. “Times change. My dad told me not to buy the place. He said it’s too much work. It’s like milking a herd of cows. You have to milk them twice a day and they have to be milked every day. If you're on vacation, somebody's got to milk them.
“We weren’t open on Sundays, but we cleaned. We had to do stuff when customers weren’t there. There's always something."
Simon owned the restaurant for about a year, Bockbrader said, before selling it to Tom Reitzel, who owned the establishment for about eight years.
Reitzel sold The Forks to Gordon Boman, who owned it for about 13 years. Boman then sold it to the current owners, Larry and Carol Moore.
Larry Moore, who has owned the Forks for seven years, called Bockbrader “Mr. Everything.”
“He’s super dedicated,” Moore said. “It’s amazing how he knows the people when they walk through the door. He sometimes has something fixed and on the table before they sit down. They love him. They say he makes the best drinks they’ve ever had.
“He does anything that we need to have done. He doesn't cook, but he mops floors, does dishes, waits on tables. He’s a great waiter. He helps out servers when they need anything. He keeps everything spotless and clean.”
Bockbrader doesn’t have a bunch of reasons why he enjoys working at The Forks.
“I just like it,” he said. “It’s what I’ve always done. I probably should have gotten out sooner. I might go back to school. You always need to keep up on things.”
He works only 35-38 hours a week these days, but he admitted that he is still somewhat of a workaholic.
“You have to keep busy,” Bockbrader said.
Bockbrader has never had to cater to a wife or take his kids to school. He’s never been married – not that he hasn’t had opportunities - and he has no children.
In fact, only one of his siblings, Nancy, has ever been married.
“I’m just too independent, I guess,” Bockbrader said. “It’s a flip of a coin. I just didn't want the headache. There’s a lot of good marriages, but I’ve heard a lot of horror stories.
“I’ve had girlfriends but it just never materialized into anything more. I’ve seen a lot of good marriages and I’ve seen a lot of bad, and it affects everybody around.”
Bockbrader will be the first to tell you he likes to have a good time. He said he used to hit the sauce pretty good, but not anymore. His easygoing manner keeps people coming back.
“You might as well smile,” Bockbrader said. “I’m not always happy, but I try to keep upbeat. I wish I was a good joke-teller. I love to be around people who can tell ‘em. I hear some good ones.”
Moore said Bockbrader’s use of the English language is often amusing.
“He’s got his own language – ‘ho-haws’ and ‘aardvarks’ and ‘76’ or whatever,” Moore said. “Whenever somebody orders something, he just yells it out. Everybody loves him.”
Bockbrader calls it his “secret code.”
“I say it to whoever,” he said. “I’ll say ‘monkey puss’ and other things. Just crazy stuff. It just sounded funny. It cuts down on the swearing, too.”
Whatever he’s been doing at The Forks for the past four decades, it’s still working.