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New life for old Hollow Tavern in Unity Township

| Thursday, June 26, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Christopher and Jessica Beam pose in the outdoor restaurant at the Steel Wheel Grill at the Hollow along Route 30 on Tuesday, June 17, 2014. It will open at the site of the former Sleepy Hollow in Unity Township on Friday, June 27, 2014.

The Hollow isn't sleepy anymore.

On Friday, the Steel Wheel Grill at the Hollow will reopen at the site of the defunct Hollow Tavern along Route 30.

Chris and Jessica Beam of Latrobe said they want to restore the former hub alongside Loyalhanna Creek, which was heavily damaged in a 2008 fire, to its former glory.

“It used to be known for good food, good entertainment and just like the saying, ‘Where good friends meet.' That's what we want to bring it back to,” said Chris Beam, 36.

“We want to make it rock like it used to,” said Jessica Beam, 31.

The outdoor patio area is slated for a soft opening at 11 a.m. Friday, when Beam will cook Southern-style smoked meats and grilled and barbecued dishes. In addition, Italian-American food will be served Wednesdays through Sundays.

The building's interior is under construction. Jessica Beam said they hope to open the first-floor bar and restaurant in September.

The building, constructed in the 1930s, has housed a campground, hotdog stand, gas station, bed and breakfast and, most recently, a restaurant and bar.

In February 2008, an arson fire devastated the landmark in Unity Township.

Fred Haeflein, a native of Unity who is a New York building contractor, purchased the property. “I just felt that it was important something as old and grand as this remain here,” said Haeflein, 54.

Haeflein, president of Kelly Atlantic Corp., salvaged what he could from the charred remains and rebuilt the place.

Chris Beam, originally of Natrona Heights, grew up working in the food industry. He met his wife at a restaurant. The couple, who have two sons, moved to Latrobe in 2007.

Chris Beam worked several years in the gas-drilling industry, while Jessica Beam forged a career at Latrobe Specialty Metals. Beam decided to open his own food business in 2012.

“We invested in a 14-by-7-foot trailer, totally renovated it and made it into a mobile kitchen,” he said.

The Beams opened The Steel Wheel Grill next to Latrobe Specialty Steel, but the operation outgrew the trailer.

They opened in the former Frank's Lounge in Latrobe in early 2013 but lost the space to a fire at the Ligonier Street Grub and Pub that April.

The Beams then leased another space on Ligonier Street, but the building sustained wind damage six months later, Chris Beam said. So they focused on opening at The Hollow, he said.

The Beams were familiar with the site. Jessica had dined at the restaurant, and Chris had helped his brother-in-law, owner of KSL Construction, repair the roof after the fire.

The couple started talks with Haeflein after losing their first building on Ligonier Street.

“We don't want a modernized restaurant,” Chris Beam said. “We want dated stuff, antiques, everything refurbished, and that was his exact idea, also.”

Haeflein said they have a 10-year lease with potential for a renewal and purchase. They are negotiating financial details.

The couple said they plan to open inn rooms upstairs and a banquet facility downstairs.

The decor will showcase the region's industrial history, like its railroads, the coke ovens of Wilpen, the lumberyard of Ligonier and the steel business of Latrobe,

“More or less, we've grown up in production, machining and gas-drilling,” Jessica Beam said. “All of those things have made us who we are. We want to incorporate that.”

They hope to reinstate the tradition of weekly entertainment that attracted people to the restaurant in its heyday. “(The Hollow) used to thrive on the side of the mountain,” Chris Beam said. “We see it doing that.”

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or nchynoweth@tribweb.com.

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