Tradition and one’s alma mater go hand-in-hand. For many, a trip back to your old stomping grounds isn’t complete unless you get that burger your town was known for, grab a slice at your favorite pizza place, or stop in for a drink at your favorite bar and grill. In Columbia, much of the college football culture at MU is captured through both food and tradition.
The culinary scene in Columbia is exceptional among college football towns. The campus runs right into Columbia’s downtown, which allows students and alumni to watch the game there or stop by to celebrate after the game at many local restaurants. One would be hard pressed to go to a local restaurant in Columbia and not see some homage to MU. From local flavors to tailgates, these traditions steeped in food bring alumni back to MU year after year.
Richard Walls – The Heidelberg
Richard Walls graduated from MU in 1987 with a business degree and an agricultural degree in hospitality management, and his brother, Rusty Walls, graduated in 1991 with a business degree.
For Richard and Rusty Walls, game days at MU have always been a large part of life. Their father, Dick, opened the Heidelberg in 1963, and the brothers are now the owners. In addition to the restaurant being part of game day traditions, their family is also a season ticket holder, and the Walls family has been going to games for more than 50 years.
“It was just part of growing up, and it’s a lot of fun to see the large masses of people coming in before and after the games,” says Richard. “We see people year after year coming in. A lot of times, we’ll get people who come back who used to work here or went to school here. It’s kind of become a part of the tradition of football weekend.”
The Heidelberg sells classic items, such as hand-breaded pork loin, Ruebens, chicken wings, and burgers, the most on game day. “I personally love the buffalo chicken wrap, and it’s what I get almost every Saturday,” Richard says. The ’Berg is also known for their pregame Bloody Marys and chilled pints of beer. Long island iced teas and mixed drinks are also crowd favorites.
Richard credits to the lively atmosphere in Columbia with creating an outstanding food culture with several different styles of independently owned restaurants around town. “Just go down Ninth Street: you have Heidelberg, Booches, Shakespeare’s Pizza — you have kind of the quintessential college town culinary delights,” he says. “Columbia is a great place to own a restaurant and be a part of the community.”
Richard’s favorite memories with food and tradition come from game day and the Heidelberg. He says, “I remember growing up and helping bus tables and run food tables — just the amount of people in the restaurant, the excitement, and how the town really got into creating the experience of football Saturdays.”
Chuck Caldwell – Tailgating, a Mizzou Tradition
Chuck Caldwell is a 2010 graduate of MU with a BS in biological engineering. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D in Biomedical Engineering.
While local fare is a big part of Mizzou sports and food traditions, those football fans, alumni, and students who cook at their own tailgates are steeped in tradition as well. Chuck Caldwell is one of the many tailgaters who set up early before each game to catch up with friends and enjoy being a Tiger.
As the child of two MU alumni living in Columbia, Caldwell’s tailgating roots go back to his youth. “My parents have had season football tickets as far back as I can remember, and we tailgated just about every game we went to,” Caldwell says. “Back in the day, MU didn’t have the great football program it does now, so honestly most of my enjoyment came from hanging out at the tailgate, eating and playing games. As an alumnus, I carry on the tradition my family instilled in me — I want to tailgate so I can be part of the game day atmosphere.”
Tailgates are (seemingly) about football, but the tradition of going to the game and meeting up with other fans pulls together fellow Tigers and creates an investment in the team. Caldwell says: “There is a camaraderie among all of us out there that you can feel just by looking around. It’s a great feeling and is why we’ll tailgate in 100-degree weather, through the rain in our ponchos, or bundle up and brace for the snow.”
Tailgating cuisine goes from traditional to creative at the Caldwell tailgate. Burgers, hot dogs, chips, and beer are a must, but, on cold Missouri mornings, the group will warm up with crock pots of chili and Fireball, or by cooking up smoked chicken wings. Caldwell added, “Being in the SEC has also inspired us to cook some regional dishes, like cajun when we play a Louisiana team, or some pork when we face Arkansas [Razorbacks].”
Outside of tailgating, Caldwell adds that the many unique restaurants in the college town allow students and alumni to watch the game and celebrate at their favorite taste of Columbia. “If I didn’t mention Shakespeare’s Pizza somewhere, I’d be doing a disservice to my Columbia heritage,” he says.
One of Caldwell’s favorite food memories comes from his younger days of tailgating with his parents. Their family tailgate was next to the stadium, in the parking lot where Marching Mizzou, the marching band, passed through after each game. “We would be sitting outside after the game and listen to them play their final marching song, and, once they were dismissed, many of them would usually beeline it to our tailgate because we would always offer them barbecue and cookies.”
Tailgating and taking part in Mizzou game days are part of what makes Caldwell feel most at home in Columbia. He says: “Game days are the best days for Columbia, and they really showcase what the town is about. I don’t know if I’d feel such a passion for the town itself had I not grown up practicing one of its greatest traditions.”