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A 100-year-old Miami tradition: The toasted rolls

 Miami 100-year-old tradition, the toasted rolls, have been scratched from the production line of Pulley Diner at Armstrong Student Center.
Miami 100-year-old tradition, the toasted rolls, have been scratched from the production line of Pulley Diner at Armstrong Student Center.

Editor's Note Nov. 3: According to social media posts by Miami University Dining, toasted rolls are again available on campus. The Miami Student has reached out to dining representatives for comment.

Alumnus AJ Brilla drove 65 minutes to Miami University this past July  to visit his alma mater with his wife and kids. Their to-do list included a feast of his favorite Miami tradition, the toasted rolls. The family stopped by Pulley Diner at Armstrong Student Center, eager to complete the nostalgic ride, only to learn that the 100-year-old Miami tradition was no longer being served.

“This was like a passionate disappointment,” Brilla said.

Brilla graduated from Miami in 2005, but in the last 18 years he has not forgotten the special night he found the toasted rolls.

“About 10 o’clock at night, and you just follow your nose,” he said. “And you saw this amazingly beautiful, almost under the spotlight type of creation of beautiful delicatessen, which is mesmerizing.” 

In 1929, Myron Timothy “Tuffy” Porter opened his diner in Oxford, Ohio, and named it Tuffy’s Sandwich Shop. The place was a small basement located on the Miami campus. It quickly became the hangout spot for generations of Miami students decades later.

Much like other restaurants in Oxford, Tuffy’s place offered Coke, hamburgers, ice cream and coffee, but nothing could outshine the toasted rolls, Tuffy’s specialty. According to Brilla, the toasted rolls are made by  kneading bread that he has no idea where Tuffy gets from, at least a quarter or half a pound of sugar powder and the perfect blend of cinnamon and sugar.

“Somehow, with all those magical ingredients and steps that I cannot quantify, it turns out the most beautiful dessert treat I’ve ever experienced,” Brilla said.  

Tuffy’s sandwich shop closed in 1973, but the tasty toasted rolls lived on in Shriver Center’s specialty shop and later in Pulley Diner at Armstrong. 

For some alumni like Brilla, the toasted rolls mean a lot more to them than a dessert. 

“We have memories there,” Brilla said. “When we were having our wedding, we took people to Shriver Center to get toasted rolls. Whenever we have visitors and go to Miami together, we go there.”

On any visits to Miami, Brilla and his wife, also a Miami alumna, always get Toasted Rolls for their kids to experience. He said it is important to him and his wife to show the children how meaningful Miami is to them. 

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The couple went to school at Miami. They kissed under the arch of Upham Hall and were married in the Sesquicentennial Chapel on Maple Street. They embody many Miami traditions and want to pass them on to their kids.

“This is what's going to make them fall in love,” Brilla said. “They will forever associate the smell, the taste, the look of it with the most beautiful campus in the world. And then you can start talking about all the other traditions, and secrets, and legends, and things like that.”

Alumna Jennifer Monahan, class of 1992, visited Miami in February 2020 with her daughter, then a junior in high school. They had the toasted rolls together, and her daughter is now a student here.

The Toasted Rolls matters because it is a Miami tradition, and Monahan hopes the school will bring them back.

“I hope Miami changes its mind,” Monahan said. “I hope that they realize how much this is a cherished part of Miami, just like other traditions. And traditions are part of what makes Miami so special."

If you go to Pulley Diner, you can still see toasted rolls under the dessert bar of the menu on the TV monitor across the counter. Perhaps Pulley stopped serving toasted rolls due to the lack of demand for the dessert.  

Photo by Ian Do | The Miami Student
Despite no longer being served, The toasted roll still remains on display on the menu board at Pulley.

Chuck Cowdery, who graduated from Miami in 1973, said that he finds the news unsurprising and that the school had to remodel if people were no longer interested in the toasted rolls.

“A lot of alumni don’t want anything to ever change,” Cowdery said. “But it has to change.” 

However, one thing that will never change is how the toasted rolls have been a prominent tradition and experience for generations of Miamians, such as Brilla and Monahan. If you go to the official Miami University website, click onMiami Traditions and scroll down.

Scroll past Avoid the Seal, pass Under the Arch, pass Around the Trees.

And there you will find: the toasted rolls.