The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 31, 2012

Portage eatery closes

Kathy Mellott

PORTAGE — The last cheeseburger and hot turkey platter were served up Sunday as the owners of a popular Portage eating place turned off the stove for the last time.

Ironically, in economic times when businesses are folding, Sassy Sisters, at 911 Caldwell Ave., closed its doors not because of poor business, but largely because business was just too good.

The eatery was opened nearly a quarter-century ago by two Portage sisters who wanted to share the good home cooking they were raised on.

The closing will impact 20 part-time employees, co-owner Joan Oshaben said. But it was a decision made months ago and one neither owner regrets.

“When we started in business, I said I’d quit when my youngest son graduated high school, and that happened 21/2 years ago,” said Oshaben. “I think it’s time to spend time with my mom. She’s 92.”

While a new owner is waiting in the wings, financing is not yet in place and the planned closing, a family decision made in April, is being carried out.

Along with her sister, Cathy Sossong, Oshaben has run Sassy Sisters seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Business has been good over the years and a decision some time ago to expand into a catering business really added to the work load, she said.

The catering business has grown and accounted for an estimated one-third of the restaurant’s total revenue, Oshaben said.

The closing of the popular restaurant, which enjoyed a brisk lunch crowd and week-end business – especially Sunday breakfasts – is a loss to the whole community, said Bob Koban, a Portage Township resident and Portage Borough manager.

“It’s a lot of work, a lot of effort for the family,” Koban said.

Koban and his family often had Sunday breakfast or brunch at Sassy Sisters, something they will miss.

It was the family atmosphere, a nice place to take children and get good food at a reasonable price, that Sharon McCarthy hates to see the Portage area lose.

McCarthy, Borough Council president, is holding out hope that a sale will be completed and the restaurant will reopen, something Oshaben said could happen in a couple of weeks or so.

“It’s sad because we really need a place like this,” McCarthy said.

The concept for the restaurant came via Joe and Kay Olszewski, Oshaben’s and Sossong’s parents, who knew good food and how to prepare it, Oshaben said.

At the time of the opening, the two attempted to come up with a moniker using their parents’ names, but it didn’t come together.

“Then someone said, ‘you’re a bunch of sassy sisters,’ so that’s what we named it,” Oshaben said.

The sisters are glad for the free time they’ll have for family and travel, but feel badly for the customers and employees disappointed by the decision.

“But we’re not crying the blues, we’re just tired,” Oshaben said.

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