Local foodie plans to open Courthouse Café Sept. 4

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

Chuck Kalb wanted to open a café and had an ideal location in mind. It was directly across from the Washington County Courthouse, where a lot of legal system participants – on both sides – appear. People traffic, and the fact the immediate area was a dining desert, positioned this place a potential bonanza.

But there was a problem. A snack shop/convenience store was operating inside this South Main Street site, a family operation that was well established.

Kalb’s wife, Stacy, worked at an insurance company nearby, and he often – half-jokingly – said to her: “If that place ever goes up for rent, let me know.”

Well, it did and she did. Dragich’s closed in the spring, and on July 11, Kalb signed a lease. Then he and Stacy got cracking on that café on the first floor of the Washington Trust Building.

An ocean of paint, a ton of equipment and six weeks of diligent Kalb labor have pushed Chuck’s Courthouse Café to the starting line. The Kalbs plan to open their renovated eatery Sept. 4 – the day after Labor Day – when the courthouse and the WesBanco branch next door are pulsating again following a long weekend.

“We feel the location – with banks, attorneys, the courthouse – will give us a captive audience. A lot of people will be within walking distance,” Chuck said. “If we serve food at a fair price in a clean environment, we should have a good business.”

A decided courthouse theme will be evident upon entering. Two mannequins will be in the front windows, one dressed as a judge, the other as a meter reader writing out a parking ticket – a common occurrence in downtown Washington.

Sandwiches will have names such as Deputy, District Attorney, Judge, and selections will include hot sausages, Philly steaks, gyros and various hoagies. Chili and soups will be available, along with hard ice cream and milkshakes. Chicken wings and french fries will be down the road.

There will be a “sandwich line” near the front and a room near the rear is being converted into a general store, with candy, chips and other snacks.

The place is brightly lit and features a new ceiling and floor. Kalb said Trek Development Group, the Pittsburgh-based owner of the Trust Building, installed the ceiling tile. The Ellsworth couple hired a firm to do the black and white tile floor, but they did the leveling. There are 18 tables, seating to accommodate 30-plus. Food photos adorn the walls.

Stacy and Chuck needed equipment and got a deal when they purchased some of it at auction from a Subway restaurant in Lancaster. But they didn’t have to purchase a lot of hardware.

Chuck, 52, is quite the foodie, a man who has been in the culinary business for three decades. He is assistant meat manager at Giant Eagle in Bentleyville and has four food trailers he transports to fairs and special events in the region. Wings and french fries are his event specialties, and in recent weeks he has been doing double duty: working from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the supermarket, before heading to Greene County Fair, then the Washington County Fair.

Make that triple duty: helping to prepare the café. Stacy, 46, and their daughter, Kylee, 8, have provided generous help – and support – with that.

They have been doing the fair circuit for years and have gained a mini-following. “At fairs,” Stacy said, “people ask, ‘Do you have a restaurant?’ Then they say, ‘You should.’”

Chuck, an affable sort who grew up in the Oakdale area, turns deadly serious when he recounts a deadly serious experience from two years ago. He was on a riding lawn mower that flipped onto him, severing three fingers of his left hand and slicing flesh from his forearm. “Somehow I got it off me,” he said. “I bled a lot and used my belt as a tourniquet up here (his left biceps area).”

He said he lost so much blood that emergency personnel did not expect him to survive. “I was dead for two minutes, 14 seconds” before rebounding. Chuck said he had 10 surgeries at UPMC-Presbyterian, including reattachment of two fingers to the hand he uses in his job at Giant Eagle. The incident left significant scarring on the forearm.

“I didn’t want to leave my wife. My daughter was so young. I didn’t want to leave her without a father,” he said. “I was very fortunate. I got a second chance at life.”