Donnie Osborne behind the counter at The Jug on Central Avenue. Osborne bought the iconic Middletown restaurant in April 2018. ED RICHTER/STAFF

Owner wants return to glory days for 2 iconic Middletown restaurants

Donnie Osborne, who owns the iconic hamburger stand where people come out to cars to take orders, said he’s trying to keep this 87-year-old piece of Middletown history alive and use new technology to grow the business.

That expansion includes plans to keep the restaurant open year-round (it has recently be open seasonally), and he purchased the nearby Shaddock’s Pizza and Drive Thru with plans to build it into a sports bar. He said his motivation is rooted in serving Middletown.

“It’s a childhood thing for me,” Osborne said. “It’s been in the community since forever. I grew up behind the school.”

He said he used to come to The Jug, 3610 Central Ave., after cutting grass, shoveling snow or doing some side job as a kid to buy a burger and a shake.

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“It’s history for me,” he said. “I’m a huge Middletown fan and love seeing Middletown making things better. It’s a great opportunity for me. Everyone has a story to share about The Jug — moms, dads, grandparents or their own.”

He heard the restaurant was for sale, and when a previous deal fell through, Osborne bought the business and opened on April 2, 2018.

After owning a construction company, Osborne moved on and applied for a Chick-fil-A franchise. He has worked in the food service industry for 3 1/2 years and worked for his brother, who owned a Chick-fil-A store in Colerain Twp.

“I didn’t realize how much I wanted to serve people and the community,” he said. “Burgers are just a way to do it.”

Osborne, 42, comes from a restaurant family, as his uncle owned a carryout and restaurant, the former Classics Wings and Drive Thru on University Boulevard.

He is assisted by his wife Sarah, who has worked to build The Jug’s social media presence, and Roger Duggan, who worked with Donnie Osborne at Chick-fil-A and is helping to maintain standards they learned when they worked there.

“We’re doing a lot of what we learned at Chick-fil-A, which has the best customer experiences,” Osborne said.

Osborne said he has added more technology to quickly get the order to the kitchen and cut the wait time for customers. He said they average about 200 transactions a day.

The menu is online, and food can be delivered using the Door Dash app.

He also said he has been working to be consistent with his operating hours and continues to give back to the community by contributing to the Middletown Schools, local golf outings and other events.

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Like many food service businesses, staffing continues to be a challenge, Osborne said he’s hiring and is always looking for good people to work for him.

Osborne is also planning to keep The Jug open year-round as it was in years before.

“We’re doing it to strengthen our business and preserve a great staff,” he said.

There’s a sign along Central Avenue that encourages motorists to honk if they want the restaurant open year-round. Osborne said cars are regularly heard honking.

He also credited the Middletown Visitors Bureau for helping get the word out about The Jug. Osborne said a family from Columbus was in town and stopped by to eat, only to return another time for a birthday because they liked the burgers.

Dick Henderson, who owned The Jug for 30 years, stopped by shortly after Osborne took it over and said the burger was the closest to his. Henderson came in a week later to tweak the burger recipe from the glory days of The Jug.

“That was a huge compliment for me,” Osborne said.

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Because of that love of Middletown, he recently purchased another local favorite, Shaddock’s Pizza and Drive Thru, 4713 Central Ave. and has plans to make renovations to transform it into a full sports bar. Shaddock’s has been family-owned since it opened in 1963.

“Before the (pizza) chains, you’d have to call three hours before to order a pizza on a Friday or Saturday night,” Osborne said. “I used to sit on my grandpa’s lap and eat a piece of Shaddock’s pizza or a steak sandwich … I want to get it back to how it used to be when I was a kid.”

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