Story and photo by Joshua Maloni
It's been more than 20 years since "Cheers" went off the air, but people still want a place "where everybody knows your name."
In Lewiston, that location is Tin Pan Alley.
"It's like the hometown place," co-owner Eric Matthews said. "It's like a 'Cheers'-type atmosphere where everybody kind of knows everybody that comes in."
Ironically, it wasn't too long after "Cheers" ended that Matthews and business partner Ken Bryan began their tenure as owners of Tin Pan Alley.
"We were both, at the time, getting out of college and looking to do something on our own," Bryan said. "I had worked in the restaurant business, and this opportunity sort of fell into our lap. Mike Johnson led us into this direction."
"That was it," Matthews added.
"Here we are," Bryan said.
Interestingly enough, they had first planned to purchase what is now The Brickyard Pub & B.B.Q - their signature Lewiston location.
"We were supposed to buy that and lease that, start there. But the guy thought we were too young - the guy who owned it," Matthews said. "We bought it from him in 2004. It was 10 years prior (he said), 'Well, you guys are too young to run a restaurant.' Mike took us over here and said, 'Hey, this place is for sale. Why don't you buy this?' So, we bought this, and then, 10 years later, we end up buying that one up there."
"We were given the opportunity to purchase (Tin Pan Alley) in '94," Bryan said. "Bill McDonald, the landlord at the time, was very good to us. We've been here ever since.
"We're fortunate enough to have Amendola Property Management also work with us. It's been very well. That's what makes the relationship for a restaurant work. In this situation that we rent, you have to have a good relationship with your landlord. We've been very fortunate over 20 years to have two good landlords."
Lewiston, likewise, has been privileged to have two hands-on restaurateurs.
"I think part of (our success) is ... us being here for 20 years," Bryan said. "People really know what they're going to get. Stability in town. I think if you look at some of the other restaurants that have been in town the same time, I think you really need to put in your tenure. (Then) people, they'll really, 100 percent, support you in the village."
Customer support has enabled Bryan and Matthews to purchase three additional village eateries: The Brickyard in 2004, Brio in 2013, and Center Cut Village Steakhouse (formerly Town Hall American Bistro), which they recently acquired and will convert into an upscale restaurant.
"Twenty years ago, (we) never thought that would happen," Bryan said.
"It's pretty remarkable that, probably out of 15 restaurants in the village, we've got 25 percent of them," Matthews said. "But every single one of them is offering a different thing. We don't really compete against ourselves, so it's good. And it's good for us for catering, too. We've had how many events that people say, 'Oh, you know what? You've got Brio. Throw a pizza on that catering order, or throw this on.' It's nice for us to have variety for people."
"We've always looked at all the restaurants we've gotten into, besides Brio, didn't really compete against anybody else," Bryan said. "They all had their own little niche. We never wanted to compete against anybody else in town. Everybody gets along. All the restaurant owners seem to get along very well, which is very unique in this town. I think it's a compliment to the other owners in town, too, that we all sit down and talk.
"It's nice. And that's what works in this town. It's why the town is the way it is."
Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano is a frequent diner at Tin Pan Alley.
"We're good customers, my wife and I. There's hardly a week that doesn't go by that we don't stop in one night for a sandwich or something," he said. "We love the guys. They're great fellows. They're great entrepreneurs. They're the best entrepreneurs, I think, in Lewiston at this point.
"The proof is in the pudding. (With) four restaurants now, I don't believe they've met their milestone yet. They're still striving.
"Twenty years (at Tin Pan Alley) is really great. I'm glad to hear that."
Patrons on Facebook told the Sentinel they enjoy Tin Pan Alley's friendly staff and ample serving sizes.
"We've always tried to give just great value," Bryan said. "We feel that the majority of our business is locals. We try our best to give great value and give back to the community the best we can."
"If you're not supported by the locals, you're not going to make it through a winter," Matthews said. "Showing your face, being here, being in the restaurant all the time, it's tough to space yourself out between four, but with both of us, and then my brother working for us full time, and then a couple of managers that we've had since we opened the place, it's helped out a lot.
"The customer knowing that there's always going to be somebody there to answer a question or answer a problem that they have or a concern that they have about the place, a lot has to do with that."
"We've been very fortunate that we've had a handful of staff here at Tin Pan that's been with us for 20 years. I think that's remarkable," Bryan said. "That's a long stand in the restaurant business. We've leaned on that help for years, and they've helped us a lot.
"We've been very, very fortunate that way."
With the rise of concerts, festivals and events in the village, Tin Pan Alley has become a nice respite from the crowds of visitors.
"It's a little quieter," Bryan said. "I think people tend to come here if they're not looking to go out and see a lot of action. Sometimes you want just a quiet little meal during the week. ... This is where people come."
"If you want to come here and grab a bite to eat after a concert, great, because, yeah, every seat is full, and it's busy, but it's not like elbow-to-elbow," Matthews said. "It's kind of nice to have a place you can do that."
"Being off the beaten path a block, it's tough to compete against Center Street. But we've managed to do it for 20 years," he added. "It's a feather in our cap, so to speak, to make it for 20 years."
To celebrate their Tin Pan Alley anniversary, Bryan and Matthews are hosting a party from noon until 4 p.m. this Sunday (coinciding with the Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans away game). The outdoor tailgate event will include food and drink specials, a buffet, prizes and raffles.
"Thank you to all of customers and staff," Bryan said. "It's been a good 20 years. We hope to make it a better one the next 20."
"Thanks to our families," he added.
"They put up with all of it!" Matthews said.
Tin Pan Alley is located at 775 Cayuga St. For more information, visit http://www.thetinpanalley.com/.