By Terry Duffy
The holidays are fast approaching and with perfect timing: The Village of Youngstown is slowly but surely coming back to life.
Over past days, two longtime and very popular Youngstown establishments - the Mug and Musket Tavern and The Ontario House, aka The Jug - have both reopened - much to delight of residents and visitors.
And not a moment too soon.
Topping the list, The Jug is again open and operating.
"Great news everyone!! I picked up the liquor license this morning and we are a go for tonight!" The Jug's Mike Costello posted on Facebook Thursday.
Costello acquired the establishment earlier this summer from long-time owner Eddie Wojcik and, over past months, has been busy with a number of renovations and improvements, both at The Jug and in his 1842-era historical building.
"Let's kick off the new era for The Jug the right way!" Costello said.
The news marks the second major return of a local business on what had been an all-too-quiet Main Street in the village.
Just last week, the Mug and Musket secured its liquor license and returned with a series of soft openings, tasty menu fare and limited bar offerings.
Mug and Musket is holding a grand reopening this weekend. Friday night dinner specials with Bud Mayer on the piano were set for last night. Tonight features Dave Thurman and Friends with dinner and drink fare, while tomorrow is football Sunday, with assorted food and drink specials.
This new establishment is family-owned and -operated. Catherine and Michael Stella acquired it from an ownership group that included Youngstown physician Dr. Jerry Andres and his wife, Claudia.
Catherine most recently served as manager of the Mug and Musket under the prior ownership.
Together for the Stellas, along with their children, Lara and Grant, and friend, Max Waterstrat, operating the Mug and Musket will be a family affair. The business will start off with a total of nine working employees and is expected to add staff in the future.
Catherine brings a restaurant hospitality background to the business, while both chefs hail from the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.
"I was the manger at the Hickory Stick Golf Course prior to this for two years," Catherine said. Originally from the LaSalle neighborhood in Niagara Falls, she is a LaSalle High School grad and has 30 years experience in the restaurant industry.
"We moved down here to the Youngstown area about 20 years ago to raise our family," she said.
What brought her to Mug and Musket?
"I approached them after I had resigned my position at the Hickory Stick Golf Course, then I saw they were going to be opening here. ... I started, actually came in as a bartender, and grew into the management position with them," she said.
Catherine said she enjoyed her experience with the prior ownership group, pointing out she felt they were dedicated. But she also said the bar/restaurant business can be very demanding.
"Everyone had the same intentions here, to preserve this location here in Youngstown; to bring it back to the people of this area; to keep it local. I think that was really their intention," she said of the former owners. "But I think getting busy with all their lives, they didn't have the time. They had other issues, full-time jobs; I think they soon found out this is more than a full-time job.
"It takes a lot of years, know-how; it takes a lot of time, effort," Catherine said.
So what can visitors expect with the new Mug and Musket?
How about new high-definition TV projectors, an updated dining room, and some exciting changes to the menu, reflecting the talents of two chefs with a culinary school background, to name a few?
"We've made it a more 'pubby menu' - a nice fare of burgers and sandwiches. We have more of an in-house, homemade approach to it," Catherine said. "We make the burgers in-house; the mac-n-cheese is to order; we make our own dough in house for our pizza.
"We kind of grew it into that, just to make it a nice pub menu - a variety of appetizers, nice salads and daily specials. I guess, from this point, we're trying to add more daily specials, to add to where it already was, to give people more variety."
"We got a lot of input from the public, for certain things; we're trying to do that through the specials," she added.
Thus far, reception from the community has been very good.
"It's been a good beginning for the first week. We hope it continues," Catherine said.
She explained the family fully intends to continue what has made the Mug and Musket popular in the community, with entertainment, community events, fine foods and an enjoyable social atmosphere.
"Yes, I still plan on doing the music, entertainment, not necessarily seven days a week, but I plan on doing it at least Fridays, Saturdays, one of those days at least, or special events. I'd like to continue that. We had a good reception on that. People seem to have enjoyed it," Catherine said.
She has a catering background, too, and, down the road she'd like to get into that area, as well.
As far as marketing, her husband, Mike, said they intend to reach out further to the yachting community on both sides of the border, and also to the growing tourist trade in the village from the fort and the local jet boat tour operators.
Of the move to bring back the Mug and Musket, Mike said, "It's a family thing. It is a hometown, family type of thing. We're part of the place. The biggest reason we took it on is that we really didn't want to see the village have an empty storefront. We think it's important. It's not good for the village to have things that are dormant."
"It gives my son, my daughter a chance to be involved," he added. "We want to do this, because we are part of Youngstown. We feel like we're part of the fabric."
Mug and Musket will be open Wednesday through Monday, with Thursday night, Sunday and Monday night football. For now, it will be closed on Tuesdays.
"As we approach the spring and summer, we'll probably be open seven days a week (for) lunches and dinners," Catherine said.
"We're trying to create (this) as a destination place for people," she added.
The Stella family invites you to stop by and check it out. They promise you'll enjoy the experience.