It seems like such a common sense practice when you think about it.
Prepare fresh foods within a couple days of harvesting. Make a beet salad with local beets. Bake a potato from a backyard field. Slice up strawberries from a neighborhood strawberry patch. That apple in your apple pie? What if it came from the family orchard?
It seems like such a wild and unique idea. But is it?
Afterall, isn’t this the way generations had prepared meals for centuries?
“If you think about it, the idea of freezing and preserving foods is not that old,” says Peyton Hedrick. Peyton is the sou chef at the new Allegania Restaurant located in downtown Cumberland (in the former home of the Oxford House). “We have only been freezing and marketing foods for about a hundred years. Before that, this is how food was always prepared. You picked it that day and you ate it that night.”
And that is basically the concept behind Allegania, which opened “quietly” in August. It is Allegany County’s newest “farm to table” local eatery although its owner and founder, Josh Horevay isn’t a fan of the “farm to table” term.
“I just think that term ‘farm to table’ has taken on a meaning that it’s hoity-toity,” he says and then laughs. “I don’t want this place to seem pretentious. I just want people to come here and experience local food and have a great meal. Eating local foods is the cornerstone of this business.”
His wife, and business partner, Julie Horevway, agrees. She says when her husband first talked with her about the idea of opening up their own restaurant, “quality” and “local” were key words that kept coming up in the conversation.
“Everything on the menu is local,” Julie says. “Why would we want to go a different route? It’s important for us to know where the food we serve comes from. We actually know the people who picked that pepper you are eating. And we are so fortunate that downtown Cumberland has a farmer’s market. If we need something, we just walk outside our door and get it.”
This is not Josh Horevay’s first foray into the restaurant business. In some capacity, he managed or help found other establishments in Allegany County. He was instrumental in the upstart of the Banana Café, Ginger’s Asian Kitchen, Clatter Coffee and Shift. But he says this is his most personal project to date.
“I always had this idea, I think. After working for other businesses, there was this idea of going somewhere else to start a restaurant and blending in or stick around, make a life and a family in Cumberland and be a part of a community making things happen.”
Josh chose the latter option. In fact, he and Julie have a daughter – now just a year old – who will grow up with and in the restaurant business. For that reason – and so their employees are not overworked – Allegania is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Those limited hours gives the chef and the owners ample time to create new menus, to prepare fresh foods, and to also enjoy a life outside the often demanding hours of the restaurant business.
“I like the hospitality business but I don’t necessarily like the restaurant business,” Josh laughs. “When Allegania is open, I personally see this as guests coming over to my house and having a nice meal.”
Everything about the restaurant is thoughtful. Not only are the hours and the dates the establishment is open but the way it opened to begin with four months ago.
“We purposefully came into town quietly,” says Josh. “When you have everybody breaking down your door just because they are curious, you end up with large crowds in the first month or so. Then your staff gets rushed and the food gets rushed and the customer doesn’t get the complete experience. We want to keep it small and comfortable in here.”
Indeed. At capacity, Allegania only holds about 30 people. Josh Horevay says an ideal night of business is serving about 60 to 65 people. That means each table only turns around twice.
Before Allegania opened at the tail end of summer, Josh decided he needed to “test the waters” and so Allegania hosted a series of “tasting events” – catering and mobile jobs. The dishes that folks responded to – like the home made and hand cut pastas, the chicken pot pie and the Johnny Cakes – are now a part of the permanent menu.
“Cooking for me was never a way to make a living,” Josh – who grew up in Short Gap reflects. “I worked my way through college working in restaurants. I went to college outside Nashville and was planning to work in entertainment management before I came back to town.”
Shortly after arriving back in Cumberland, he heard of a new restaurant opening and he approached the owners about working for them.
“That was the Banana Café and I somehow talked them into letting me run that kitchen,” says Josh. “And even when I took some time off and traveled, even when Julie and I got married and even when we had our daughter, I think I always had this idea of opening a place in Cumberland. I honestly think the potential for downtown Cumberland is endless and I want to be a part of that.”
Josh says while this is his first “personal” business in which he is considered the “sole owner” (even his name comes up on the customers’ receipts), opening Allegania was a group effort that involved his family, the Cumberland Economic Development Commission, and the support of other restauranteurs in the area.
“I believed in all of the places where I worked and I wanted all of them to succeed. I still do but this business is now up to me. I think this is the fifth restaurant opening I have been involved in. And I would say, yes, it is the most personal.”
From concept to completion, opening the Allegania Restaurant took a little more than a year. The Horevays had to present a business plan, then secure financing, then find a suitable building and then redecorate the interior. That meant adding new walls and tearing down others – painting, new ceilings, new lighting, new furniture, refinishing a bar area, opening up windows to allow natural light in from Baltimore Street, and then eventually adding the artwork from an artist friend that adorns the walls. With exposed brick, hard wood floors and modern farm furnishings, the restaurant has a cozy but Metropolitan vibe – as if visiting a friend in the city – a friend who still misses living in the mountains.
“I love that and I care about what we are doing,” Julie – a native of Cumberland and a graduate of Allegany High School -- says. “It’s easy when it’s something that you love and care about.”
“That said, opening a restaurant is really hard,” Josh adds. “We don’t want to push our staff right now too hard because then things will go poorly. We want to keep our staff happy and creative too. And then collectively, we will increase as things grow.”
“I have to say that I have a lot of fun working here,” adds Peyton Hedrick. “The kitchen and the dining room is small enough that you hear what people think of your food and it gives me a chance to try things out and be creative.”
“I have said from the beginning of this idea that if we were going to do this, we had to do it right. Our main mission statement is to prepare local foods with integrity and keeping foods from the Appalachian region on the menu,” says Josh Horevay. “Our menu here will take people back 70 years.”