The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 6, 2013

Going hungry: Only 1 of 4 county-owned restaurants remains open

JOHNSTOWN — Anyone wanting to eat at a restaurant owned or connected to Cambria County will have to settle for a hot dog off the roller grill in the basement of the courthouse in Ebensburg.

As of Friday, the courthouse snack bar is the only county eatery that has its doors open and is serving food.

A lot of things go into the mix, including the difficulty many restaurant operators nationwide have experienced during the recession, said county President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder.

“Obviously, with the tough economy, it’s difficult to find a win-win situation where you can support the restaurant and not lose money,” Lengenfelder said.

The shutters have been closed on the restaurant at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport for more than a year as they have at the 110 on the Park, a restaurant on the corner of Johnstown’s Central Park in the county-owned office building formerly housing Glosser Bros. department store.

The City View Bar and Grill, the restaurant at the top of the Inclined Plane that closed late last month, is owned by the Cambria County Transit Authority, but the county considers itself a stakeholder because taxpayers provide a  half-million dollars annually toward support of the authority.

County, airport and transit authority officials say they have been beating the bushes in search of new tenants for the three and hope better news is on the horizon.

The Central Park Complex should have a restaurant back in operation by the first part of June, Lengenfelder said.

“It looks like we have a renter. They want to come in by June 1 in time for Thunder in the Valley, Lengenfelder said last week. “There is no contract signed yet, but they are local people and they are restaurant people.”

Lengenfelder said he would provide no names or contacts until an agreement is in place.

With windows looking out on Central Park at Locust and Franklin streets, a restaurant first opened in the county-owned complex in May 2001 as cafe @ central park.

Sharyn Spinelli, known for her former ownership of and development of the Em’s Sub Shops in the area, was the cafe’s second operator. She eventually partnered with Shaun Dougherty, who in 2007 took full control of the establishment and renamed it 110 on the Park.

Without warning, Dougherty on March 16, 2012, closed the doors of the eatery, a move that came following a late 2009 decision to eliminate dinner service and be open for lunch only from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

A June 1 date has also been set by the transit authority to have a new tenant in the City View, said Edward Cernic Jr., authority chairman.

“It’s a great venue, a great place to take company,” Cernic said. “The economy, I’m sure, played a role in this, but I also think the banquet room was under-utilized.”

City View was last operated by Andy and Katie Lasky, who were three months in arrears on rent to the authority, prompting an eviction notice approved March 22.

Cernic said the authority went out of its way to help keep Lasky afloat, but there was no indication things were turning around.

“I think it’s a good place for a restaurant. People will travel there,” Cernic said of the Inclined Plane as a destination point for locals and visitors. “But as with any business, once you get behind, it’s almost impossible to get caught up.”

Cernic has compiled a list of nine people, including a number of well-known restaurant operators in the area, who have expressed interest in a lease with the authority.

“We hope to start advertising it next week and take 20 to 25 days for interviews,” Cernic said.

The facility may need a little tweaking, but it should need little work. Opening the doors by June 1 is not out of the realm of possibility, Cernic said.

Taking full advantage of the crowds in Johnstown for Thunder later in June and being open for the full summer season is a key to the eatery’s success, said the authority chairman.

“We’ll be open in June, somehow, some way,” he said.

Finding a new tenant for the restaurant at the airport is turning out to be a little more difficult.

The eatery last served food in November 2011, when Audi’s Olde World closed its doors.

Authority Vice Chairman Will Polacek said valuable time was lost last year when a deal fell through between the airport and a Sidman couple who operate eateries in area shopping malls.

“I’d say we have interest and the authority is willing to be pretty flexible with costs,” Polacek said. “One fell through and now we have to go out and market it a little bit.”

A big setback for the airport restaurant is its location. It does not look out on the runways and guests cannot watch planes landing, said Lengenfelder, who  also is a member of the authority.

Also hurting is the deployment of the U.S. Army Reserve unit, which creates a stream of traffic when at home, he said.

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