A century of great food, good people

The Texas turns 100



LOCK HAVEN — It’s known all over.

About six months ago, a young fellow serving in the military in California started talking about Lock Haven. Another fellow nearby caught the name of our town and had to ask: “Is that little restaurant on Main Street, The Texas, still open?”

The first fellow said yes, indeed it is. Later, he told his grand-father to tell Phil Anastos that his restaurant was so famous, people 2,700 miles away had heard of it.

“I hear stories like that all the time,” Phil said.

Everyone seems to have a story about the restaurant. It feels like it’s always been here and always will be.

In fact, The Texas turns 100 this year.

It’s been serving food to folks from near and far in the same spot, 204 E. Main St., for a century.

There will be a block party for the milestone on Aug. 8. The date is 8/8/18, which is easy to remember.

Once known as The Texas Lunch, the restaurant was first opened in August 1918 by Spiros Pappas. The Anastos family is not related to this original owner. However, a three-generation family tradition started with the next set of owners, James “Jimmy” Williams and Frank Klaras.

These two gentlemen handed over the reins in 1961 to two relatives — Nick Klaras who was Frank’s cousin, and Peter Anastos who was Jimmy’s nephew.

Pete had a restaurant with his brothers in Ohio at the time. He moved here with wife Stella and son Louie to take on this business opportunity. Their younger sons, Tony and Phil, were born in Lock Haven.

Pete died in 1990 at the age of 60. The following year, Nick turned 65, and Pete’s son Phil bought him out. Now Phil and his mother own both the building and the restaurant.

Taking a break from the grill to sit in the front booth, Phil talked about his memories of the restaurant that has always been a part of his life.

“I really don’t know how I ended up with the business,” he said. “My older brother and I helped out here when we were in 11th and 12th grade. It stuck, I guess. I enjoy doing it. I have three kids, two in college, one in high school. I don’t know if one of them would have an interest in it or not. The two oldest did come in and work when they were kids, like my brother and I did.”

His mother still cooks there, coming in for the mornings. He’s philosophical about the fact that she’s still working. He gives a little shrug and says, “This is how she is.”

Stella Anastos has racked up 57 years in the back kitchen, cooking soups, preparing food. She said, “My first job was to peel potatoes — and I still do that today!”

Phil figures she has peeled and chopped, by hand, close to 1.8 million potatoes over all those years — more back in the days when The Texas was open all the time, but still a good amount even today!

Yes, The Texas was once open 24 hours a day. The town was booming in the 1960s and 1970s, and the restaurant was a focal point, especially in the wee hours of the morning. When everything else closed up for the night, The Texas was the last stop for many before they headed home.

But as Phil said, times change, drinking laws change, the economy changes. It’s been 16 years since he posted new restaurant hours. The Texas is now open 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays.

“We serve good quality food, and I’ve kept the prices down,” he said. “We’re always hands-on — all the owners always were — and that makes it family-friendly.”

The restaurant also welcomes students with open arms, and Phil gave a shout-out to Lock Haven University.

“They’ve really supported us over the years, the faculty and the students,” he said.

The Texas Growler — the restaurant’s signature hot dog with meat sauce — got its name from college students in the 1960s, Phil said.

Today, LHU students receive 10 percent off their orders if they have their ID.

While he talks about The Texas, customers stop by the front booth and offer to tell their own stories about him and the restaurant. Most move on quickly, though, before they have a chance to incriminate themselves.

One local man (whose name must remain shrouded in secrecy) once snatched a steak off the counter and was chased down the street by a knife- waving grill cook.

Bob Nevins said, “Many times, Phil’s dad threw us out, me and the boys, but then he’d serve us out front here.”

“That’s a true story!” Phil says.

He recalls one night when two rowdy friends came in. “Then my dad got word that another group of kids was coming down, so he stopped that group at the door. He served them, though, and they ate on the steps of the Elks club.”

Things did get a little crazy at night from time to time, Stella recalls. She chooses, perhaps wisely, not to elaborate.

Her most important job isn’t in the kitchen… “She keeps an eye on me,” Phil says.

A secret ingredient of the business side is Phil’s wife, Jacqui, who has worked at The Texas for 26 years.

“We’ve had employees who stayed here a long time, and they knew what to do, and that’s a big help,” Phil said. “We have three now who have worked here for more than 20 years.”

He does the grilling and some cooking. The most popular food items, he said, are the hot dog — of course — and anything breakfast.

“When the university’s in, they are all about breakfast,” he said.

Stella thinks the baked hamburger, served rolled like a hot dog, must be in the top two or three in popularity.

Stella was born near the town of Sparta, in Greece. Asked what her favorite meal at the restaurant is, she doesn’t hesitate in answering “The Yia-Yia Omelet.” (Yia-Yia is grandma in Greek.) The omelet is a tasty mix of spinach, tomato, green onion and feta cheese, something she first started making at home. The family likes it so much that Phil has it on the menu.

He has left his mark in many ways on the iconic eatery. One of the more whimsical is the American hot dog statue at the counter — a happy hot dog wrapped in a flag — that he added about a dozen years ago and that out-of-towners love to have their photos taken with.

The Texas sponsored five hot dog eating contests in recent years, with the last one in 2008.

“The customers talked me into doing them. I said I would do five, and I did,” Phil said. “We used to get good crowds, but there’s a lot that goes into one of those contests.”

He’ll hold another one this summer.

Everyone who has ever eaten at The Texas — and anyone who hasn’t — is invited to the celebration on Wednesday, Aug. 8 when hot dogs will be just $1, or as Phil puts it, “Dollar Dogs!” The city will close a section of Grove Street, and the block party will commence around 4:30 p.m. There will be live music, the hot dog eating contest, and some things that won’t be revealed ahead of time, Phil said.

He also plans to run specials over the summer as part of the celebration.

Phil remodeled the place in 2006. He went with a nostalgic diner theme with some sports memorabilia on display. The seating configuration is the same, but everything else looked shiny and new when he first opened the doors on the renovated restaurant.

People responded positively.

“They were very overwhelmed when we opened again,” he said. “We’d been closed for about a month, and I think they were having withdrawal.”.

The restaurant itself is the building’s original section, according to Phil.

“Older people have told us this part of the building was here first, and over the years, more storefronts were added and apartments were built on top,” he said.

“I could grow in either direction, but the way things are now, this space works out,” he said.

The counter used to run the length of the restaurant, but that was before the 1972 flood hit the downtown and The Texas was forced to remodel.

After the flood waters went down, some restaurant owners just closed up for good. But Stella said they didn’t even consider that option. The Texas managed to get all the work done in about a month and was the first restaurant to reopen. People formed lines on the sidewalk waiting to get inside, Phil remembers.

The restaurant’s popularity has continued down the years.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell made it a point to eat there on a couple of occasions.

Stella remembers the late Russ Letterman fondly. He was the area’s state representative, and he and his wife often stopped in when they’d been at the Elks.

Her favorite customers? “Everybody,” she says.

When Piper Aviation Corp. was here, the workers would come in every time they changed shifts. Phil remembers watching one relatively small man, a Piper employee just off work, eat 26 hot dogs in a row.

Coffee klatches make The Texas their home. One group is always standing outside before it opens at 6 a.m. When that group leaves, another one comes in, around 7 or 7:30 a.m., and core groups of regular customers come in throughout the day, every day.

Donna Vonada can be found there every morning. She has been eating at The Texas for more than 70 years, since a very tender age, when her family would walk down from Fairview Street.

She and Sandy Keohane now meet at the restaurant daily.

“We moved up here 20 years ago from Jersey Shore, and The Texas was the place that made me feel the most welcome in Lock Haven,” Sandy said. “They’ve been here through some difficult times in our family. It means a lot.”

Phil can think of a lot of restaurants that have come and gone over the years, but this one remains. It’s earned a spot in the hearts of many who love Lock Haven.

Folk musician David Pinelli wrote a song about the place.

Shirley Lebin also penned a Texas song, in the 1970s. Hers includes the lyrics, “We’re all going there tonight… Where the Growlers are great… At The Texas!”