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Family Feud Threatens Hot Dog Joint Made Famous By M*A*S*H

JOHN SEEWER   06/10/11 05:55 PM ET   AP

Mash Hot Dog Feud

TOLEDO, Ohio — A family feud slathered with accusations of financial misdeeds is threatening the future of an Ohio restaurant whose hot dogs were made famous by cross-dressing Cpl. Max Klinger on "M-A-S-H."

The fight centers on the ownership of Tony Packo's, a corner bar and grill that grew out of the Great Depression and whose chili-topped hot dogs, stuffed cabbage and roast beef platters continued to please fans even after the iconic TV show ended its run three decades ago.

"If you're ever in Toledo, Ohio, on the Hungarian side of town, Tony Packo's got the greatest Hungarian hot dogs," Jamie Farr's character Cpl. Max Klinger said on an episode in 1976.

The son and grandson of the restaurant's namesake have been trading accusations for nearly a year, and each is trying to buy the company. The restaurant's lender foreclosed on its loans, and a judge put a third party in charge of the restaurant while he sorts out the mess.

Both sides were in court Friday, when a Lucas County judge heard arguments on a number of pending motions.

The character played by Toledo native Jamie Farr put Packo's on the map when he portrayed a homesick U.S. soldier in the Korean War who longed for Packo's hot dogs and wore dresses in hopes of convincing the Army he was crazy and should be discharged.

Packo's was mentioned in six of the 250 episodes of "M-A-S-H" – notably, in the final episode in 1983, which until last year's Super Bowl was the most-watched TV show in history.

The original Packo's – there are five outlets around Toledo – remains a destination and is decorated with "M-A-S-H" memorabilia, including glass-encased hot dog buns autographed by celebrities ranging from Bing Crosby to Alice Cooper.

It's still common to see out-of-state license plates in the parking lot and visitors snapping photos inside and out.

The family for years resisted offers to expand, although it does sell Packo's hot dog sauce and pickles in stores across the nation, including some Kroger stores in the Midwest.

The restaurant first opened in 1932, when Tony Packo and his wife got a $100 loan from relatives.

Trouble among the owners surfaced in 2002 when Nancy Packo Horvath, daughter of the founders, accused her brother, Tony Packo Jr., of trying to force her out of the business. They settled their differences and agreed to reorganize the company's management structure.

Packo Horvath died a year later, leaving her share of the business to her son, Robin Horvath. All seemed fine until July, when he sued Tony Packo Jr., and his son, Tony Packo III, accusing them of blocking him from looking at company financial records after he began questioning them about company spending.

Horvath claimed he found $400,000 in unauthorized payments dating to 2006. He said his cousin, Tony Packo III, used company money to repair his wife's car, pay for construction at his mother's home and buy golf balls and golf shirts without providing receipts.

The Packos have denied any wrongdoing. They countered in court documents that Horvath had not been involved in day-to-day operations for years and had little knowledge of the business.

Since then, Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp has foreclosed on almost $4 million in loans to the restaurant and seized about $100,000 Horvath had at the bank. It also foreclosed on properties that Horvath owns next to the restaurant, trying to reclaim personal guarantees he made on the business loans.

A bank attorney said in February that Packo's lost a lot of money last year – he did not say how much – and that its future was in doubt if it continued business under the court-appointed third party. An attempt to resolve the dispute with the help of a mediator failed this spring.

James Rogers, an attorney for the Packos, said they haven't closed the door on reaching a settlement. He wouldn't discuss what is at the root of the differences.

"Family business disputes can be complicated situations," Rogers said.

The Packos have not talked publicly since the dispute arose. Messages seeking comment were left with Horvath and his attorneys. Horvath told The Blade in January that he didn't think Tony Packo Jr. misappropriated the company's funds but was trying to protect his son.

The upheaval doesn't appear to be hurting business – at least judging the number of cars filling the parking lot recently.

Customers say they can't imagine Toledo without Packo's – the hot dogs are what cheesesteaks are to Philadelphia and deep-dish pizza is to Chicago.

"It's too big of a name," said Jim Zywocki, who lives in the suburb of Holland and stopped in for lunch because he was working nearby. He took home a map for some out-of-town co-workers who wanted to stop in, too.

"Tony Packo's is Tony Packo's," he said. "It's a landmark."

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Filed by Joe Satran  |