Ruthie's Diner in Ligonier keeps travelers coming back
Locals and out-of-towners alike funnel through Ruthie's Diner by the dozen each day, some to grab a cup of Joe and some to grab hotcakes on the way to work, or a quick bite before hitting the rides at Idlewild Park.
The dining staple along state Route 30 in Ligonier tends to inspire the question, “Who is Ruthie?”
“There really is a Ruthie,” said namesake and owner Ruthie Stevens, 80, of Somerset Pike.
Stevens has managed the diner for approximately 28 years, keeping track of the books and offering her own cooking expertise at times.
“I like it,” she said. “I like the people.”
Stevens inherited the diner from her deceased aunt, Ruth Clark, who rented out the building to another family that ran it as a diner.
Prior to taking over the business, Stevens worked in a sewing factory in Hollsopple.
“I could put a zipper on a man's coat in a minute,” she said. “I loved it.”
Shortly after Stevens opened the diner, a fire caused damage to the roadside hub, but “the diner didn't miss a day,” Stevens said.
Since then, Ruthie's Diner has drawn crowds for breakfast, lunch and dinner with its low prices and welcoming diner atmosphere. The breakfast special, consisting of two eggs, choice of meat, toast and home fries, can be savored for just $5.19.
“We cook and peel all of our own potatoes,” Stevens said. “That's a big job. We get a busy breakfast.”
The lunch and dinner fare includes diner classics like grilled ham and cheese, a Reuben, fried oysters, liver and onions and pork chops.
Typically, Stevens is at the diner from about 2 to 9 p.m., six days a week, working mostly behind the scenes. When she isn't at the diner, Stevens can be found gardening, bowling at Ligonier Lanes or taking her three grandchildren shopping.
A staff of 15 people keeps the show going at the diner, with some of Stevens' family members helping out with the business. Her son Terry Stevens, 57, juggles several roles at the diner, like managing and cooking. He typically works 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I try to give you more than you need,” he said of the diner's generous servings.
He accredits the diner's steady stream of customers to “being non-corporate, homestyle.”
“Some people come in two to three times a day everyday,” he said.
Bob Hostetler, 58, of Somerset dines at Ruthie's about three times a week, but when he still lived in Ligonier, he came in every day. He said he has been a customer on and off for 30 years. He likes “the friendly people and good breakfast.”
“It's Ligonier people, and Ligonier people are all good people,” he said, adding that his favorite dish is the ham pot pie.
Stevens' nephew, Bill Burkholder compiles the menu, and granddaughter Brandy Stevens, 21, cleans and helps wherever help is needed.
“It's just relaxing to work here,” said Brandy Stevens, who started working at the diner in 2007. She attributes the diner's success to how much food can be had for a low price.
Stevens makes homemade candy and pies to sell in the diner. Some of her specialties include peanut butter melt-aways, chocolate-covered cherries, butter-crunch and sour cream and raisin pie.
Her treats have travelled as far as Czechoslovakia, and her pies have been “sent across the ocean” by customers eager to share the deliciousness with others, she said.
The diner has many regular customers, as well as groups that frequent the restaurant, such as church groups and nursing home residents.
Peggy, 65, and Donald Lunnen, 68, of Maryland have been coming to the diner for more than 20 years. They own a cottage on Darlington Road.
“The food is good and (reasonably priced),” Peggy Lunnen said, who likes the hot roast beef sandwich.
“I like their chili, steak and breakfast,” Donald Lunnen said. “They have a nice ham barbecue sandwich.”
The couple appreciates the consistency of the service.
“The servers do a wonderful job,” he said. “You get the same service. Every time we have the same gals.”
Some famous names have dined at Ruthie's, like Arnold Palmer and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Stevens said. The diner has received accolades for “Best Breakfast” in the Tribune-Review's Quest for the Best contest.
“It's busy all the time,” Stevens said.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.