The opening of Bellwood family restaurant Irvin's on Main was nothing short of the stars aligning.
Owners Ben and Leigh Irvin, who had both worked in the restaurant business for more than a decade before opening the restaurant in November 2010, joke that the business was started "on a whim." But really, everything just seemed to fall into place for the couple, from the prime real estate going from pending to back on the market to receiving support from banks, outside funding and small business planning specialists.
And for their luck, the community couldn't be happier.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Irvin’s on Main owners Leigh and Ben Irvin pose at the restaurant.
"I knew we had to find a bank, and I figured we'd get the door slammed in our face," said Leigh, 34. "But we didn't."
"It worked out for the best," Ben, 33, added. "Good credit goes a long way."
Irvin's on Main is now an any-meal establishment with a laid-back, inviting atmosphere. Families can sit at a table or take one of the many counter seats, talk or watch a ball game on one of the muted TV screens. Kids can find entertainment watching fish swim in the large tank set up near the front left corner of the establishment, or picking out their favorite flavor lollipop from a huge drum that is always full.
Irvin's on Main
Address: 400 Main St., Bellwood
Phone number: 822-2000
Web site: www.facebook.com/pages/Irvins-On-Main/111158218929633
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Price range: $1.99 to $17.99
Specialties: Cheese steaks, Italian dishes and Penn State Creamery ice cream
The long list of regulars are usually hard-pressed to pick a favorite dish on the menu, which features everything from diner food to Italian favorites to Penn State Creamery ice cream.
"People eat all over the menu," Ben said. "It's not one staple item that's sold."
Supporting a diverse menu was the main goal of the restaurant, Leigh said.
"Him and I just got tired of eating the same food all the time, and having to drive to Altoona every time we were hungry," she said. "There's nothing here that offers everybody a wide variety of food. I think that is what has helped us be successful."
"There's pizza and Chinese here, so I tried to offer a wide variety to kind of hit all areas," Ben added.
Most of the items on the menu are made from scratch. Chef Michael Gensamer, who goes by the nickname Spanky, has been working at Irvin's on Main since it opened. He said working there has allowed him to exhibit his creativity, and use what he learned from getting his culinary degree.
"It's a lot different than any other restaurant job I've worked," Gensamer, 38, of Altoona, said. "It's just laid back and everyone is friends. It's a dream job."
Gensamer said he loves to cook everything he has come up with, which includes the French dip sandwich, the pizza burger, the shrimp scampi and Spanky's spaghetti - a pasta, chicken, tomato, mozzarella, basil and balsamic dish that carries his name.
Naming menu items is something Ben enjoys doing for his loyal customers. The Joe Martin Special, a breakfast sandwich with meat, egg and cheese between two slices of French toast, was named for the Irvin's neighboring business owner at Martin's Barber Shop.
"After I tried [the sandwich], I ordered it about five or six days in a row," Martin, 26, of Bellwood, said.
Martin said he enjoys all of the food at Irvin's, as well as the down-to-earth people and atmosphere. He added that it seems to be a community staple for many hungry locals.
"You see the same cars over there every day," he said.
Vern Latchford, 62, of Tyrone, is one such regular customer. He said he comes to Irvin's on Main often for breakfast and two or three times a week for dinner.
"I enjoy the meals and the camaraderie," he said. "There is a great group of regulars that show up, and when everyone is there it's just fun."
Latchford's favorite item on the menu is Spanky's spaghetti, he said, but he added that what keeps him coming back is the fair pricing on everything they serve.
"[My wife and I] can almost count on the fact that we can both get a home-cooked meal darn near the price for one of us for one meal at another restaurant," he said.
Rob McGee, 49, of Bellwood said he enjoys going to Irvin's on Main because whether it's a plate of wings or creamery ice cream, he always knows he'll get a "good, quality product at a reasonable price."
"I keep going back because I like to support local businesses that are worthy, and Ben's business is worthy," McGee said.
Ben said even with rising prices for ingredients, he's set on keeping costs low for customers.
"That's how you keep people coming back every day, in my eyes," he said. "A quarter pounder is $3.99 with fries. I'm almost positive you can't go to McDonald's and get that."
Leigh added that they try to support the local community as much as they can by helping out with donations or local fundraisers. Going from a start-up business to a thriving community staple, local loyalty and word of mouth has always been Irvin's on Main's best advertising, Leigh added.
"If they're from the Bellwood area, we try to support them because they'll support us," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.