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When Stepfanie and Andrew Caranci bought the Picket Fence Café in 2017, they didn’t really have a good sense of the history of the building that they were buying. All they knew was that they had a nice, family-friendly restaurant in a prime location downtown.

In an attempt to make it better, the couple wanted to expand their kitchen area and they had plenty of space back there to make it work. But, on Monday, contractors working to knock out a wall in that area noticed something strange in that wall. It was an original Tupperware container that contained items from previous owners of the restaurant. It was a time capsule from 1991.

“(They found) whatever that was and a tube,” Stepfanie said. “My contractor found it, left it on my desk and told me that he had found pictures in the wall. I didn’t know how in detail it was until I actually opened it and looked at it.”

What was inside was incredibly fascinating for anyone who managed to see it. Back in 1990, the owners of a place called the Little Gem Café moved their location from a place on 12th Street one block up onto 13th. But, months into their stay, a fire broke out in the kitchen, leaving the place uninhabitable for the next few months.

During this time, the owners received help from the Columbus Church of Christ, cleaning up the place in order to get it back to normal by March of 1991. While this happened, the owners collected items that were to be put into the capsule, such as an old menu, pictures from the evening the restaurant reopened, Husker gear, a Barbra Streisand eight-track tape and some old copies of The Columbus Telegram.

Stepfanie and Andrew said they were impressed to see everything in the container was preserved quite well. Looking through the capsule gave them a sense of just what the restaurant used to look like before it became the Picket Fence Café.

“That gave us a little bit of insight as far as the story (of this restaurant),” Andrew said.

After finding the capsule, the two began asking as many people as possible about just who made appearances in the pictures. They found someone who was in the pictures of the Church of Christ volunteers: Seth Ahrens, who was a young child at the time that the pictures were taken and is now an insurance agent with Evoke Insurance Solutions in Columbus.

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“I notified him and sent him this picture,” Stepfanie said. “He knew all of these people from the church.

“I did not know that all of these pictures were taken inside the restaurant. I just looked at the group of people and moved on. It wasn’t until later when I looked at them a second time that these were actually inside of the building I own.”

The Ahrens also included some interesting items when the capsule was filled: A library card and a YMCA card—which cost $237.

While finding the capsule was a big surprise, it wasn’t Andrew’s first experience with one. In elementary school in the mid-1990s, he helped fill a time capsule for his class.

“I couldn’t tell you (what was in that time capsule),” Andrew said. “We used newspaper articles and some pens and pencils.”

After looking at everything in it, the two business owners had a better appreciation for what came before them at the Picket Fence and a better appreciation for those who reached out and helped rebuild the restaurant nearly 30 years ago.

“There was a lot of thought that was put into this,” Stepfanie said. “I’m glad I’m the one that found it. It says a lot.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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