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Couple's decision to take over Lumpy's in Level Green was good one

| Friday, Aug. 19, 2011

There's a lot to be done after Karen Zummo opens the doors at 5 a.m. at Lumpy's in Level Green.

First, she makes coffee for the customers who start rolling in before 6 a.m. Then, she prepares the display cases where she plans to show off the treats she's about to make. Then, it's time to get baking.

The schedule doesn't bother her -- Zummo has arrived early at the restaurant almost every day for the past 21 years.

Zummo -- who bakes the pies at Lumpy's -- said the early morning hours are well worth it to provide customers with treats that some have enjoyed since childhood.

When the deli/bake shop's original owner put Lumpy's up for sale last year, Zummo knew whoever bought it would have a lot of work to do -- and quite a reputation to keep up.

That thought also crossed the mind of Bob Haldie. A customer of Lumpy's, he has known Zummo since they were childhood neighbors growing up in Harrison City.

Haldie said Lumpy's was a staple in the community from the time it opened about 25 years ago.

When the restaurant went up for sale last fall, Haldie and his wife, Kellie, thought they would like the opportunity to bring even more people to one of their favorite places.

Haldie admitted that the move was intimidating.

"We knew it would be hard work, but it's been even more rewarding than we thought," he said. "It had a heyday, but we knew we'd be able to bring new opportunities and new services."

The couple bought Lumpy's in November from former owner Bob Rupp. Within a week, the Haldies gutted the restaurant, remodeled and then reopened. The couple expanded the convenience-store area, added tables to the dining area and new recipes to the menu.

They decided that everything the restaurant sold would be homemade, from the macaroni salad and pepperoni rolls to -- of course -- the pies that Zummo bakes from her mother's recipes.

Kellie Haldie, originally from Plum, said she and her husband worried about how the community would react to the new ownership and the changes they made to a longstanding local business.

"We were the new kids on the block," she said. "You never know how they'll respond to it. We thought the changes would be better for the business, but you just never know."

Audrey Guskey, a marketing professor at Duquesne University School of Business, said Haldie's concerns were justified.

Although there are advantages to buying a business that already is established, the situation could go downhill quickly if new owners start making major changes that loyal customers don't want, she said.

"If the business you're buying needs changes, as new owners you want to be very visible and talk to the customers," Guskey said. "You have to be honest with people, especially if it's a small, tight-knit community. If you have regular patrons, you want to keep them happy."

Kellie Haldie said that fortunately, her fears subsided when customers -- including the former owners -- began filling up the new tables. She said she and her husband have enjoyed getting to know the customers and watching them interact with the Lumpy's staff -- some of whom have worked at the restaurant almost as long as Zummo.

"It's like 'Cheers,' " her husband said, referring to the 1980s hit sitcom involving a neighborhood tavern in Boston with a loyal, though quirky, group of regular customers. "They know everyone by their name when they come in here."

The Haldies said they are looking forward to adding even more features to cater to their customers.

Kellie Haldie said one goal is to install a barbecue pit near the outdoors seating area and host a small farmers market in the parking lot by next summer.

Her husband said they are in the process of expanding the catering business and offering more homemade dinner options to cater to working families.

"The whole thing is labor-intensive, but we wouldn't have it any other way," he said. "We're just your own bigger kitchen."

Zummo said she believes the Haldies' plan is working.

Business is picking up, Zummo said.

"The people really do make it," she said. "When people stop in when they haven't been around town for awhile, it's cool. You never know who you're going to see here."

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