Valley Hotel Restaurants Create ‘Stickieness’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Residents of and visitors to the Mahoning and Shenango valleys have an abundance of choices about where to dine inside and near most hotels.

Aside from a continental breakfast on the premises, nearby fast-food, fast casual and white-tablecloth restaurants await most hungry people.

But for those who stay at the Avalon Inn in Howland, the Holiday Inn in Boardman or the Park Inn by Radisson in West Middlesex, Pa., dining and drinks are a short walk down the hall or an elevator ride away.

Last fall The Avalon Inn and Resort opened Gatsby’s restaurant on its premises. An intimate restaurant with a coffered ceiling and wood and marble flooring, Gatsby’s offers “a dining experience designed to match anything you can find at a larger urban hotel,” says Lauren Lindvig, director of marketing.

The concept of a hotel with an upscale restaurant attached is becoming popular again in larger markets, Lindvig says. Having a restaurant on-site keeps even the most discerning customers inside the hotel and ensures they needn’t look elsewhere, she says.

Pictured: Lauren Lindvig, director of marketing at Avalon Inn.

Despite operating in a smaller market, the Avalon attracts both domestic and international travelers, and Gatsby’s adds to its appeal. “We always say that we have it all,” Lindvig says, “and this is one more thing to add to what we already have.”

The restaurant is intended to invoke a feel of the 1920s. “It feels like a Prohibition-type spot,” Lindvig posits. “It’s a little darker, a little more intimate, kind of like you’re being let in on a secret.”

Upon entering, customers are greeted with a glass of Prosecco and the opportunity to sample one of the chef’s creations. The menu offers fare such as grass-fed lamb, veal and lobster tail. An extensive wine list offers domestic and international selections. Among the cocktails available are classics such as a Mary Pickford, a Sidecar and an Old Fashioned.

Gatsby’s features live entertainment. Joe Augustine, Todd Crenshaw and others perform Wednesday evenings in the wine and piano bar.

Gatsby’s is open to all, but it does have a dress code, Lindvig says. “Collared shirts, a nice jacket, a pair of slacks or high-end jeans. All that’s fine. But you’re going to step up the game a little bit when you come here.”

At the Holiday Inn Boardman, TJ’s Restaurant and Lounge has been an attraction for both hotel customers and the public since the hotel opened in 1988. “The restaurant was thought of as full-service, but mainly for hotel guests,” says the general manager, Mike Moliterno. “Yet a lot of locals came, so they immediately had to add to the restaurant.”

TJ’s, which has 163 seats including at the bar, still thrives long after the era of the popular hotel restaurant has faded in the Valley, Moliterno says. While a profusion of restaurants dot the area around the Holiday Inn, TJ’s continues to draw a wide variety of customers, drawn to both the extensive menu and the bar.

The expanded breakfast menu, double or triple the size of a standard Holiday Inn menu, is very popular with hotel customers on weekdays. “We still wanted to have our local favorites, as we call them, so we made a special menu for breakfast,” says John Fabian, food and beverage director.

TJ’s opted out of the more standard Holiday Inn lunch and dinner menus. “We do our own thing,” Moliterno says. The dinner menu features everything from Italian greens to TJ’s specialties, such as blackened chicken risotto. A wine list is available to accompany one’s choice of entree.

Some customers come just for the bar. Businessmen often enjoy TJ’s in the evening because no one has to drink and drive, Moliterno says. “The big lure of the bar is to be able to sit, relax, drink and then take an elevator back to your room.”

Some TJ regulars come five or six days a week, Fabian says, but Sunday – also the busiest day of week – is the time hotel customers and regulars fill the place. “Sunday mornings we have our hotel guests,” Fabian says, “but on Sunday afternoons we’ll have so many regulars come in.”

Conventions, wedding parties, golf outings and special events and concerts held at the Covelli Centre result in a constant turnover in the people who patronize TJ’s. “You really get to meet a lot of different people,” Fabian adds.

TJ’s is beginning to plan for a major renovation, Moliterno says, which will include the addition of a patio. “We’ve been very successful with this restaurant,” he says, “but we want to do something different with it.”

Customers who want a meal or a drink and some entertainment don’t have to leave the premises of the Park Inn in West Middlesex, which is served by JW’s Other Club and Café, one of the few full-service hotel restaurants in the area.

“You could stay at a Holiday Inn Express, but you’re just paying for some kid to put out Danish and muffins,” says Robert Lozier, director of food and beverage. “You can get a hot breakfast here and start your day off with a hearty meal.”

Pictured: Robert Lozier oversees the restaurant at the Park Inn.

Having a restaurant and lounge on site creates “stickiness” for the property, Lozier says. Whether a business conference, a golf outing, or even a wedding, JW’s provides a ready opportunity for dining or drinking – without the need to get into a car and drive to nearby Sharon or Hermitage. “It’s also a way of saying that you have more than just rooms,” he says.

Breakfast is the busiest time of day at JW’s, but for those who stay for lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers a variety of hearty meals including the Pittsburgh Salad, JW’s half-pound burger and the grilled salmon. “We stick with comfort foods,” Lozier says.

At night, JW’s takes on a nightclub-like atmosphere. A disc jockey performs every Friday, and there’s live entertainment every Saturday night.

As summer approaches, weddings and golf outings will bring more traffic into the hotel and into JW’s, Lozier says. “We hope after a wedding that people will stay here and afterwards go to the lounge to watch the band.”

Unlike TJ’s in the Holiday Inn, almost all of JW’s business comes from customers who stay in the hotel. Many locals have told Lozier they weren’t aware that JW’s serves the general public as well as hotel customers. “Over the years,” he says, “with all of the stand-alone restaurants that have popped up around here, people kind of forgot about going to that hotel restaurant to have a bite to eat or get a drink.”

Pictured at top: John Fabian is food and beverage director at the Holiday Inn Boardman, where Mike Moliterno is the general manager.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.