Mike Costello family reopens The Ontario House
By Terry Duffy
The fun has returned to Youngstown.
The Stone Jug saw a well-attended and welcome "soft opening" last Thursday, as the Mike Costello family took over operations of the local favorite at Main at Lockport streets. For the village, it marks the second successful reopening of a long-popular business in past weeks.
For Costello, of Lake Road, owner of Lakewood Landscaping since 1985, it's a perfect next step for a long-time Jug customer.
"I've been a patron here, starting in 1976," Costello said. "I started working at Faery's Nursery; we used to come in here for lunch."
"When we moved down here in '79, this was the place to stop - after work, on the way out, whenever," he continued. "It's always just been the watering hole. We became friends with Ed (Wojcik). When he was at a point where he was ready to get out, retire, somebody had to step in and take over the place."
Costello said he has long professed a love for the 1824-era Ontario House building - one that the Wojcik family operated for years as a hotel/rooming house, modest restaurant and a bar known as The Stone Jug. When the opportunity came up, he couldn't pass it up.
"The old building ... it's just such an incredible building. ... The stone, four-and-one-half stories, 2-foot thick, stone walls. It's a great, great old building, built to last forever," Costello said. "Stuff just does not get built like this any more. So to be able to just come in, go through, fix stuff that needs to be fixed, it's a great opportunity."
Costello acquired the property in late September. He has been overseeing some extensive renovations since that time. "We're new, I've never done anything like this," he said. "I've done a lot of construction, but as far as running a restaurant/bar, it's totally new to me."
He said his son Peter, 27, who has worked The Jug in recent years, will run the bar business. Peter's friend, Andy Zaffrin, who has worked at the nearby Main Street Pizzeria, will handle the kitchen operations, which are expected to get under way in coming weeks.
Thus far, it's been fixing up the old Ontario House - a lot of it.
"We started with the roof, then the back room. He (Wojcik) closed the beginning of October. We were closed for four weeks," Costello said. "The back room, the bathrooms ... that was the biggest thing we've done thus far. First thing we had to do was put a roof on that. It was leaking for years. Then we had to replace a lot of the rotten stuff, which was damaged. We built the new men's, ladies rooms in the back of that. We took out the old men's room, opened it up; it really made a difference with the size (of that room). It connected it to the bar room."
Costello said he didn't have to adhere to any preservation requirements on the renovations, but noted he preferred to maintain as much of the Ontario House's historical integrity as possible in the construction.
"We're not under historical designation, we don't have that," Costello said. "But I like the old stuff, that it looks like it came from the era.
"(As to) materials, we just repurposed here ... a lot of the moldings we were able to save. The wanes-coating we were able to save, reuse. The hardwood floor we were able to piece out.
"The back room, men's room, we had to reframe; it was a major project putting that back together."
Costello said Peter and a number of local friends assisted him in the renovations, which include the relocated bathrooms, a new back room, kitchen renovations and some rework in the side rooms.
And thus far it has been very well received.
"It's been great. We were packed (on the soft opening)," Costello said. "Everyday it's been really good. Everybody's really happy to see the place back open again. Everyone's interested in seeing the improvements.
"The main thing (was) to keep this in the period of when the building was built. We didn't want to change the Stone Jug. Everybody loves the Stone Jug."
"I'm (also) one of those people who love the old Stone Jug," he added. "We wanted to preserve all the good stuff, just improve on some of the stuff that needed to be improved on."
Costello said he expects the kitchen to offer a pub-type menu with lunches, dinners and late-night fare offered. He said he's looking forward to the new operation.
"Andy Zaffrin, he works at the pizza shop now. He's going to come over and run our kitchen for us," Costello said. "He's coming with quite a bit of experience, a lot of good ideas, and he's looking for a nice opportunity for himself, too, where he can run his own place."
"We'll start out small with a pub-type menu, and then who knows?" Costello continued. "We are going to expand, add this dining room; we are going to add the back room, have a nice little dining room. Hopefully that will expand the clientele (and others) who want to come out here and meet before they go out.
"We want to operate in the evening, offer food pretty much until close. For now, burgers, quesadilla, salads, wraps, soups. It will be kind of a pub menu."
Costello said the new back room is now open for private parties, community events - whatever area residents may desire. "We're ready to accommodate anything ... showers, rehearsal dinners, etc., some bands, either in the side room or in the back," he said. "We have a couple of ideas."
He pointed out The Jug already hosted a successful Cards for Soldiers event last weekend.
As far as plans for the rest of the building - The Ontario House is more than four floors and more than 8,000 square feet in size - Costello said in coming months he'll do some minor refurbishing of the rooms on the second and third floors, including adding bathrooms. He wants to open them to overnight rentals next spring. He intends to market them on a level similar to Airbnb.com, targeting the offerings to fishermen, the Can-Am Regatta, visitors to Buffalo-Niagara Falls and tourists on both sides of the border.
Costello said he sees The Ontario House and The Stone Jug - an operation that some may view as two operations - as one truly unique attraction.
"(Look), the whole place is the Ontario House: the rooming house, the bar within the Ontario House is the Stone Jug," he said. "Really, the Ontario House is the hotel, banquet rooms. ... The Stone Jug is the bar within the Ontario House.
"It's really both The Ontario House, The Stone Jug. It's great."
He invites you to check it out.
"It's off the beaten path, but that's kind of in style, to go off the beaten path," Costello said. "We have the bar, we have this village. ... I think it will be the place to stay."