What happens when you cross a young Greek immigrant and an Ohio candy and ice cream maker in 1911? Why, you get the beginnings of The Alcove Restaurant, of course!
Take a look back with us as we reminisce on our humble beginnings.
The Men Behind the Legend
Around the turn of the 20th century, the poor and unlanded people of Europe saw America as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. For many an immigrant, it truly was. Fred Surlas boarded a ship and came to his new homeland from Greece in 1904. He was all of 19 years old.
Fred sought his fortune for seven years before meeting up with Peter J. Francis in Youngstown, Ohio, with whom he became fast friends and business partners. With Peter's confectionery talents and Fred's penchant for hard work, they established Candyland in 1911 in Mount Vernon, opening the candy and ice cream shop on Dec. 6. Downtown Mount Vernon was a happening place in 1911. Rent was a whopping $60 per month, and a cup of coffee sold for just a nickel.
Although a fire next door (which happened just nine days after Candyland opened) nearly wiped out their infant business, the pair worked tirelessly to clean up the extensive smoke and water damage and reopen to the delight of the Mount Vernon residents. Candyland's ice cream was so popular that Fred and Peter decided to take a chance and remain open all year round, a first for ice cream vendors of that era.
The Birth of Fine Dining
In the early 1920s, the business added sandwiches to complement its sweet wares, and it was only a matter of time before Candyland became a full-fledged fine dining restaurant in the late '20s. They added "The Alcove Room," where they offered meals of more substance. As the demand for sweets gave way to the demand for delicious meals, Candyland needed a makeover.
Sadly, Peter Francis passed away in 1937. Fred Surlas Sr. took on his son Fred Surlas Jr., and together, they renovated the location by tearing down the old structure and rebuilding to include a second-floor banquet room. Looking to keep their guests comfortable all year round, the engineers of the new building drilled a 137-foot well at the northwest corner of the building in order to provide water for an air conditioning system. It was the first air conditioning unit to grace a public building in Mount Vernon.
Now, the Surlas family was set to offer a place to serve organized gatherings and events for their growing customer base. To honor those very customers, they decided to let them suggest a new name for the restaurant by way of a public contest. "The Alcove" won the prize, and the newly-built, newly-renamed restaurant held a grand opening on Sept. 29, 1937.
Still in the Mount Vernon Family
Thirty-seven years later, the ownership of The Alcove passed to Richard and Suzanne Cochran. They took over where the Surlases left off on Oct. 1, 1974, and carried the torch for ten years until Thomas and Julie Metcalf bought them out on Jan. 1, 1984. On December 1, 1999, David and Kathy Body took charge of The Alcove until it sold once again on August 4, 2004, to local investors. As one of the premier fine dining restaurants in Central Ohio, we're proud to remain locally-owned.
In 1988, during the Metcalf administration, dinner theater came to town. This was, and remains, so well-received in the community that each show has more interest than available seating. Fans of The Alcove's dinner shows learned quickly to make their reservations early in the four-show season before the tickets all sold out.
Looking Forward to Another Hundred Years of Tradition
This rock solid, 105-year-old restaurant still feels like a teenager — not anywhere near ready for bedtime. However, after 80 years of little facelifts here and there, it was time to do some deep cleaning and remodeling. The Alcove plans to serve Mount Vernon and our traveling guests for at least another century, so we invite our patient customers to bear with us while we upgrade our amenities for you! So far, renovations are proceeding smoothly.
As a testament to a different time, Tom Franz, while removing the old cherry cabinets in the lobby, discovered an old, original business card from Surlas and Francis' day. It proudly announced, "All food prepared and cooked by women." We're still chuckling about that.
While the new interior will meet the modern building code and offer a fresh appeal to all, don't be surprised if you feel a friendly, invisible touch on the shoulder while enjoying your drinks or meal. That's just Fred Surlas Sr. or Peter J. Francis welcoming you to their new old restaurant.
Do stay tuned for more updates on the renovation!