With Chef Back in the Fold, Pondi’s Launches Brunch and Cook-at-home Dinners

LISBON, Ohio – Pondi’s Restaurant may have history, charm, loyal customers and a reputation for great food to its credit. But it’s not standing still.

Recently, long-time chef Treg Steves returned to Pondi’s after working a couple years with a food distributor. He’s now a business partner with owner Matt Borza and the two have come up with some fresh menu items and ways to serve their customers.

Borza calls it “next-level stuff.”

The cozy, 105-year-old restaurant is known for steaks and seafood. It’s a certified Angus beef house that cuts its own steaks daily and makes its own sausages and ground beef blends. Ribeyes and filet mignon are two of the top sellers.

“I cut 70 steaks this morning and ground 50 pounds of beef,” Steves said on a recent weekday.

That won’t change.

But Pondi’s has added a Saturday brunch, with a menu that starts with a fresh take on traditional breakfast items but goes way beyond.

Items include Sausage Gravy and Biscuits with fried eggs, The Cinnamon Roll, Steak and Eggs, Cali Breakfast Wrap (which includes avocado, chorizo and a chipotle drizzle), and Waffles with warm peaches, maple syrup and whipped cream cheese.

There is also a Spring Chicken Milanese Style Spinach Salad, Primo Chicken Pasta (baked spaghetti marinara with a chicken breast, Italian greens, provolone and peppers), and a Wake-N-Bacon Burger (with fried egg, bacon and maple mayonnaise on a brioche bun).

Pondi’s has also begun offering steak dinners to go, with premade side dishes that just need to be heated and instructions from chef Steves.

“There are two strip steaks, baked potatoes, asparagus, sauces to make with it, rolls and butter,” Borza says. “Everything you want is in there. The steaks are ready to cook. You get high-quality steaks that are better than you could get in a grocery store. It’s 75 percent ready. You just cook the entrée.”

Steves says the make-at-home dinners are popular.

“It gives you an opportunity to have a special night with your wife, or maybe for Mother’s Day,” he says.

Like a butcher shop, Pondi’s also has begun to sell its ground beef in one-pound packages, and also its fresh-cut steaks.

When the pandemic hit, Pondi’s — like all restaurants — shifted to takeout. Sales were extremely strong.

“We never closed,” says owner Borza, with the exception of a few weeks last spring when it was mandated by the state. “Our sales did not falter. With the [popularity of our] takeout, we realized that the community’s support [for Pondi’s] is great.”

Pondi’s still offers takeout. But demand is often so high that they have to shut it off when it starts to affect the kitchen staff’s ability to service in-house diners, Borza said.

“It’s hard to keep up with the carryout,” he said. “We are at full capacity all the time.”

The restaurant has regular customers who show up at least once a week from an hour or more away – Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Akron, Steubenville.

As for the new brunch service – it stems from Borza’s desire to expand into off-peak hours. “That’s where I needed Treg’s expertise,” he said.

Pondi’s had previously not been open on Saturday mornings.

“It’s not all bacon and eggs,” Steves says of the brunch menu. “There are some diverse offerings. We can change it every week if we want, and it’s a way to try out [new dishes] before putting them on our regular menu.”

Steves notes that Pondi’s is also “famous” for its Bloody Marys.

From the outside, Pondi’s is an unassuming place on the edge of town. The family-owned restaurant is still located in the original home of founders John and Anne Muntean Pondi, Romanian immigrants who opened the eatery on the first floor of their house in 1916.

It has been in continuous operation for over a century – which puts it in a class of its own, says Borza.

For most of those years, ownership has been in the hands of the descendants of the Pondi and Muntean families. Large black and white photographs of family members from a century ago still hang on the walls of the dining room; most prominent is a portrait of Anne Pondi, whose recipes and knack for cooking are the foundation of the restaurant.

Ownership returned to the family’s hands in 1998. That’s when Borza – who also owns a meat market in Lisbon – bought it. In 2001, he hired Steves as chef.

Steves ran the 18-man kitchen until 2016, when he left to work with restaurant food distributor Sysco.

Steves returned about a year ago.

A Salem native, Steves went to culinary school in Pittsburgh. He previously worked at restaurants in Salem, Cleveland and Massachusetts.

Steves, who father also owned a meat market, has been a chef for 30 years.

Pondi’s, 8954 state Route 45, is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and stays open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It opens at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and is closed Sundays. It will launch a website later this spring.

The restaurant employs 50. It has a pre-pandemic capacity of 75 diners and a horseshoe bar that stays open a little later than the restaurant.

Will the restaurant ever expand? It’s a goal, but the restaurant’s history and character comes first.

“There are things in the works,” he says, “but we’ve got to maintain the integrity of this building. It was an old house, and we don’t want to take away the charm. If something gets done, it will be done tastefully.”

Pictured: Business partners Matt Borza and chef Treg Steves are bringing some changes to Pondi’s Restaurant.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.