Ligonier's Eastwood Inn changes hands
If walls could talk, the Eastwood Inn would probably have a lot to say.
The iconic restaurant along state Route 30 in Ligonier has entertained the likes of Dean Martin, Neil Armstrong and countless local celebrities for 81 years.
It has built a reputation of exclusivity with no advertising, a somewhat formal dress code and a doorbell required for entry.
Finding the place was a bit of a wink-and-a-nod-later act for years.
For the first time in its storied history, the restaurant will operate under a new family. The Eastwood Inn is now owned by Drue Spallholz, 33, and Erica Nuckles, 33 of Ligonier. The couple are the first owners not related to the Stroupe family to own the place, but they are dedicated to retaining the restaurant's aura.
“It is a big responsibility to continue the tradition of this place,” Nuckles said. “We absolutely understand and respect the tradition of this place.”
“We're not going to turn it into a burrito joint,” she said.
“We're excited to continue on the feel of exclusivity, but really make sure anybody who would like to join us for dinner is going to enjoy themselves,” Spallholz said.
The Eastwood Inn's history started with Earl Stroupe and his wife, Mary, who first owned the property. He named it because it was just east of Ligonier town.
“I think it was really just a place for Earl to enjoy with his friends, so it was a real, ‘you gotta know someone to come in,'” kind of place, Spallholz said.
“There was a sort of speakeasy vibe going on,” Nuckles said. “We don't really know when the restaurant really started, but it went legit in 1934 when prohibition ended.”
After the Stroupes passed away, Mary Stroupe's sister Sophie Greshok took over in the 1950s. When she died, her brother, Joe “Smokey” Greshok took on the business in the 1990s. He passed away in 2010.
“I hear people tell stories with tears in their eyes because they loved Smokey so much,” Nuckles said.
Greshok's daughter Alexa Stouffer took over with her husband Van in 2007.
“It was very satisfying knowing that people enjoyed their meal and really appreciated the effort you put into keeping the quality up and keeping the restaurant the same as we possibly could to the days that my aunt had it,” she said. “It's very unique. People really like that. It's like stepping back in time.”
She and her husband decided to pass on ownership to move to Montana.
Spallholz and Nuckles heard of the Eastwood Inn from Nuckles' coworker at Fort Ligonier, Annie Urban.
“She first told us about it when I told her I liked manhattans, and she said, “You have to go to the Eastwood,'” she said.
Spallholz and Nuckles stopped by for a drink in October 2014. After learning the restaurant was for sale, their interest was piqued, and even more so when they learned they could live in the upstairs portion of the building.
Taking on a historic property like the Eastwood Inn is a joy for Nuckles, who is the fort's director of history and collections.
“It's amazing, and it is so connected to my work at the fort, not just that it's a historic site but that the fort is also just a staple in the community that's been here for just as long really,” Nuckles said.
Spallholz is pleased with the turn his career has taken as well.
“I wasn't necessarily looking to buy a restaurant, but the atmosphere here, it just had me from the first couple steps into the building,” he said.
Spallholz studied math and philosophy but spent several years working retail with cheese and specialty foods. He took classes at a culinary school.
Dining at the Eastwood has long meant relishing simple, pure food, like a no-frills steak and potato. An old menu hangs on a wall in the bar area. Aside from prices, it hasn't changed much, Spallholz said. He hopes to keep the menu's understated excellence.
“The steaks aren't even seasoned,” Spallholz said. “What really makes them great is the broiler, which is for all I know as old as the building. It works so well to sear the steak and keep it tender.”
Other menu items include burgers made from the ground trim of the steaks, seafood and lamb. Vegetables like green beans and lima beans are available a la carte. A meal runs anywhere from $9 to $48.
The Eastwood Inn's cook has eight years of experience, and its three waitresses have more than 60 years combined experience, just at the Eastwood Inn.
“They're dynamite,” Nuckles said.
There's a bit of a “balancing act” in keeping the traditions yet making the restaurant their own, Spallholz said. He aims to keep “what's been here and what's made it great for so long but still invigorate it enough to engage and spark some interest in the community.”
The stories born from the restaurant's years of service are enough to ignite interest.
Joe Greshok famously made a crew of Atlanta Braves baseball players obey the dress code rule of no shorts for men.
“The MVP, all-star, best pitching staff that's ever been got turned away,” Spallholz said. “They found their rain pants in their golf bags. A person who still eats here was here that night, so they can back it up. It's not just lore, it actually happened.”
Another time, one customer told Spallholz a quintessential Eastwood story without really telling it.
“There was an older gentlemen who wanted to tell me a couple, but his wife kept kicking him under the table,” he said. “The whole vibe of the place was sort of ‘under your breath.'”
Customers love sharing the year they started dining at the restaurant.
“One of the first nights I worked with Van and Alexa in November, one of the first people I served, they sat down and asked for some champagne, clinked their glasses, and I heard them say, ‘Happy anniversary,' so I said, ‘Oh it's your anniversary. That's fantastic. What number?' They said ‘It's our 43rd anniversary,' and she says, ‘We've celebrated all 43 in these two seats,'” Spallholz said.
In addition to being a sweet spot for sweethearts, the Eastwood has been a hot spot for celebrities. Frank Sinatra, Ross Perot, the Rooney family, Mario Lemieux and Pittsburgh Steelers have dined at the inn. Stouffer recalls visits from CEOs of major companies, owners of sports teams, ranch owners from Texas, congressmen and hockey players.
As she and her husband move onto a new chapter of life, Stouffer said she's grateful to everyone who made the Eastwood what it is for 81 years, and Van Stouffer invites everyone to come visit their new home.
She's confident the new owners will continue the Eastwood Inn's high-quality food and classic atmosphere.
“Drue worked for me for at least two months before we closed the deal,” she said. “He got to see how things are run, and I know he's changing some things, but I think he also understands the history. They appreciate it. They're not going to turn it into a Hooters.”
Thus far, the couple has received a positive response from the regulars, Spallholz said. They've made a few additions to the place, like a fireplace in the foyer and music that summons the same nostalgia as the bar's 1950s cigarette machine. They hope to add weekly and seasonal specials, serve gourmet cheese and enhance the wine cellar's offerings.
“I couldn't be more excited to have the chance to be a part of this place, the history of this place,” Spallholz said. “It's fun to hear memories that people have, and years from now, I'll be part of those memories.”
To make a reservation, call 724-238-6454. Credit cards are not accepted at the Eastwood Inn.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.