Belgrade Gardens, Inc., the first chicken dinner operation in Barberton was started by Mike and Smilka Topalsky in 1933. The Topalskys began a family tradition in dining and management. Eighty years ago they opened their farmhouse dining room to families who enjoyed old world cooking.
Mike and Smilka met as Serbian immigrant children in Barberton. After marrying and becoming involved in other business ventures, they opened the existing restaurant on July 4, 1933 in what had been Mike’s father’s home on East State Street. Mike’s father, Alexander, had operated a dairy farm on the premises prior to his death in 1930. The farm had to be sold during the depression years and the new landlord rented the farm to the younger Topalskys. In 1940 the property was purchased by the Topalskys and the farm was back in the family name.
The idea about selling fried chicken dinners developed when customers dropped in for a lunch of homemade soup and a sandwich. While eating they were intrigued by the aroma that came from the kitchen where Smilka prepared her family meals on a kerosene stove.
The customers questioned what was being cooked. Smilka decided to let them taste and share in the meal she had made for her family. The customers were so pleased that fried chicken, “djuvece” known as hot sauce, (which even today remains unduplicated), coleslaw and fried potatoes became the specialty of the house. This one entrée menu remained the same for 33 years, until 1966.
For the past fifty years the Topalsky’s son-in-law, Kosta Papich, an electrical engineer, has been President and General Manager of Belgrade Gardens, Inc. His wife, Sophia, a former teacher is the daughter of the original owner the late Mike and Smilka Topalsky.
Through the efforts and foresight of Mr. & Mrs. Papich, Belgrade Gardens has grown from that small farmhouse restaurant surrounded by the big lawn, trees, and flower beds to its present size. The expanded farmhouse now seats 270 people. Belgrade Gardens reputation as a Barberton Landmark and fine eating establishment is known the world over.
In the January 1991, the Belgrade family opened another location between Akron and Canton which is called Belgrade Gardens South. Milos Papich, son of the owner, joined the company as a manager of the operations.
Eighty years of loving service and making friends . . . people have come back again and again and have told their families and friends about the food they enjoyed at Belgrades. Our satisfied customers have spread our reputation around the world, even though, we have stayed in one spot.
Today, Belgrades is serving the children and grandchildren, even great grandchildren, of some of our first customers. The Belgrade family has enjoyed many rewarding years of making our customers happy by doing something better than anyone thought could be done.
Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Topalsky for the hard work and dedication you have instilled in us and Belgrade Gardens.