It's all about family at the Sassy Sisters Restaurant in Portage.
"We're definitely a family," said Chris Gruse, the restaurant's baker. "We have a coffee time in the morning where we solve everyone's problems. Cathy [Sossong, part-owner of the restaurant] comes in and yells, 'BT,' meaning break time, and [the staff] all gather at a booth and have coffee and just talk."
And that family theme extends beyond the staff, to the customers of the 23-year-old restaurant - located on Caldwell Avenue, two blocks from Main Street - through its food and its service.
Mirror photos by Cory Dobrowolsky
Sassy Sisters Restaurant is owned by sisters Cathy Sossong (left) and Joan Oshaben.
Laminated tables in the restaurant display old, candid photos of Portage residents under the surface.
"It's real, home-cooked food, something you would have at your mom and dad's," Sossong said. "We try to be like family."
Sossong and her sister Joan Oshaben, the sassy siblings who give the eatery its name, bought the establishment in 1989. The restaurant had previously been open as the Mustang Corral, but had been vacant for "four or five years" before they bought it, Sossong said.
"I knew about the business," said Sossong, who had worked in restaurants since eighth grade and had previously waitressed at the Mustang Corral. "I always wanted to own my own restaurant.
Sassy Sisters Restaurant
Address: 911 Caldwell Ave., Portage
Phone number: 736-4450
Hours:?8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday through?Sunday.
Price Range: Entrees start at $7.49. Sandwiches, soups and salads range from $1.99 to $6.99.
Specialities: Roast turkey and stuffing, meatloaf, liver and hamburgers
Reservations: Not necessary, but taken
"I had looked into other places. I talked to Joan, and we decided to jump right into that pot."
In addition to the seven cooks that the sisters keep on staff, they both enjoy getting into the kitchen and creating meals.
"I like the cooking, the prepping, everything in the kitchen," Oshaben said. "We're in there every day."
"It's fun," Sossong added. "We like to get our hands in it. It's nice to be able to say, 'I made that.' When someone tells our waitress, 'That was really good,' it makes you feel good."
The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with different specials every day for each meal. It also offers a breakfast buffet on Sundays and catering.
Some of the eatery's specialities include roast turkey with stuffing, meatloaf, liver and burgers.
"I like them all," Gruse said of Sassy Sisters' menu items. "We make really awesome pigs in a blanket. I also like our haluski and our hand-breaded chicken. It's nothing for them to do 400 to 500 pieces of chicken on a Saturday for pickups."
Soup is another big seller.
"We have people we have to call when we have certain soups," Sossong said. "We can't keep soup."
Steph Bier of Portage has worked as a waitress at Sassy Sisters for nine years.
"Our food is excellent," Bier said. "Our food is fresh. A lot of people come for our turkey dinners because it's fresh. Our burgers are really good, too."
"And our waitresses are awesome," she added, with a laugh.
The wait staff - which includes Sossong and Oshaben's older sister, Shirley Branas - significantly adds to the familial atmosphere.
"The waitresses know when the customers come in, what they are ordering, what their drinks are," Sossong said. "The kids come in, and they know where to grab the coloring books and crayons."
"And they will stand and wait for their lollipop before they leave," Oshaben added, with a laugh.
Sassy Sisters' regular customers extend well beyond the town limits of Portage.
"We get customers from Claysburg, Johnstown, Windber, Martinsburg ...," Oshaben said.
"From all over," Sossong added, finishing her sister's thought.
It's not just homestyle meals and familiarity that keeps the customers coming again. The restaurant offers pies, cakes and other items, all handmade by Gruse, who has been at the restaurant since it first opened.
"Everything is made from scratch," Gruse said. "I make the pie dough, everything. You won't find too many restaurants that do that."
The most prized of all Gruse's baked goods are her gobs, and Tuesday is "gob day" at Sassy Sisters.
"On Tuesday, the phone starts ringing," Gruse laughed. "They ask, 'Are you making gobs today?'"
"In the summer, she doesn't make gobs, because it's too warm," Sossong said. "So, people will rush in for gobs before summer comes. They will keep them in their freezer all season. And even if we get some cool weather, people will call and say, 'It's been pretty cool. Is she making gobs?'"
As well as family, town pride also is a theme at the restaurant. Upon entering, customers are greeted by a large wooden mustang hanging on the wall, symbolic of the Portage Area High School mascot. Booths in the restaurant also boast laminated tables with pictures of old Portage sports teams and candid shots of the town's residents from bygone days under their surfaces.
And it's that laid-back, close-knit, hometown feel that drives the business.
"We have a McDonald's here in town, but when our customers want a burger, their kids will always ask, 'Are we going to Sassy Sisters?" Sossong said.
Mirror staff writer Cory Dobrowolsky can be reached at 946-7428.