Prime time player grabbed spotlight at popular eatery

Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

For decades, it was a “go-to” restaurant in Washtenaw County for lovers of German cuisine, served up in a warm and inviting atmosphere that proved to be a popular lunch and dinner dining spot for patrons of all ages.

Leutheuser’s Restaurant, as the name would suggest, was a family-run operation in Saline that catered to the tastes of a small town community with a rich German tradition. Located on Michigan Avenue – otherwise known as U.S. 12, for years the main artery between Detroit and Chicago – the eatery was just a short jaunt from a sprawling Ford Motor Co. plant on the edge of town.

There, in its manufacturing heyday, the Ford plant boasted a workforce of some 3,500 employees, including a gentleman I met over lunch at Leutheuser’s while “on assignment” one sunny spring afternoon 25 years ago.

His name was Tod Stoddard, a Ford worker who quickly became known as the quintessential “prime time player” at the restaurant each Thursday afternoon.

Every Thursday, tender prime rib was on special at the restaurant, and beef-lovers flocked to the site for generous half-pound portions at lunch and even meatier cuts at night. And the price, to borrow a phrase, was right – $5.25 for the noontime meal and $8.95 for dinner-goers.

Stoddard, whose wife was an elementary school teacher at the time, considered the half-pound of beef nothing more than an appetizer for the 24 ounces to come. His hefty 2-pound servings – complete with soup or salad, roll, potato, and a large chocolate sundae – turned out to be regular Thursday fare for the 145-pound marathon runner.

“I remember coming in here for lunch nearly a year ago,” Stoddard told me that day in 1993. “I said to the waitress, ‘I want two pounds of rare prime rib and money is no object,’” he recalled between tastes of a cup of clam chowder. “She went back into the kitchen and came out a few minutes later and said it was okay, but that it would cost $21. I nodded and said, ‘Bring it on.’”

They did and watched in amazement as the slight-of-build skilled tradesman from Ford polished off his plate of prime rib, devouring the beef sideshow with an equally business-like approach.

“I think they thought it was some sort of fluke and that one time would be it,” he said. “When I returned the next week, they knew I was serious.”

So serious that restaurant owner Roger Leutheuser took note, deciding to trim off a few dollars from the luncheon bill, offering what best can be describe as a volume discount.

“We’ve had this prime rib special for around 3 years and it has grown into a Friday offering as well,” said Leutheuser, who willingly sprung for lunch for his best beef-eating customer.

“But with what Tod has done, I may have to expand this again and offer a 2-pound special for everyone.”

Thirty-two-ounce helpings of beef were not for everyone, however, as a 220-pound colleague of Stoddard’s later discovered.

“He thought he’d give Tod a little competition in the eating department,” related Gary Traster, a co-worker of Stoddard’s and one of his regular lunchtime companions.

“The fellow had to take a doggy bag. He didn’t come close to finishing it.

“Tod is in a class by himself when it comes to prime rib,” Traster said at the lunch. “All he does is knock of the hooves and goes.”

Some 4 years later in December 1997, Leutheuser’s would be gone too, making way for national drug store operation at the high-visibility site, thereby ending a 70-year run that warranted a prime time place in local restaurant lore.

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