WOOSTER – Change is in the air, and it’s not just the shifting seasons.
Four new eateries are on the way while another recently opened its doors.
At the same time, local favorites have new management, ushering in a new era for some classic local restaurants.
Wooster BBQ staying in the family
Months before the tailspin that was COVID-19, Bob Workman was on track to sell Omahoma Bobs Barbeque. He had a buyer lined up and was prepared to retire.
When COVID hit in mid-2020, the buyer couldn’t follow through on the purchase, so Workman went back to work.
But it wasn’t long before his daughter contacted him, interested in taking over the family business. Soon she and her husband moved their family to Wooster.
By September 2021, Jenna and Joe Laughlin took over, officially purchasing the joint.
In the months that followed, the married couple has contended with a staffing shortage, supply chain holdups and food prices doubling in cost.
To balance the books and work schedules, the Laughlins slightly raised prices and removed one item from the menu – the twice-baked potatoes, Jenna Laughlin said. They also reduced hours.
Despite these changes, the community has been understanding, Laughlin said.
“I think the best compliment we’ve received is, ‘I didn’t even know you guys changed owners,'” she said.
Before restaurant ownership, Laughlin was a teacher. Her husband was a minister who often worked with Chick-fil-A.
At one point he considered operating a storefront for the chain eatery, but when an opportunity presented itself in Wooster, they couldn’t pass it up.
Now in charge of the family business, the Laughlins hope to expand while keeping that small-town feel and charm. Their immediate goal is to sell jerky and beef sticks at Wooster retailers.
As for Workman, he can still be seen working the counter or bussing tables, though it won’t be forever, he said.
Workman is building a house in Oklahoma where he and his wife will live in retirement, close to her family.
“I feel guilty leaving because I’m not down here, but I know the restaurant is in good hands,” Workman said.
Wootown Bagels is expanding
The bagel baker named for the city has big plans for 2022.
Wootown Bagels announced on its Facebook page that it will open a storefront at 806 East Bowman Street this year.
From plain to poppy bagels and breakfast sandwiches, old favorites and some new choices could be available as the move from Local Roots could result in an expanded menu, the business hinted on Facebook.
While project plans are in the early stages with no set opening date, Wootown Bagels will use every asset the building has to offer.
“As of right now absolutely we are going to make use of the drive-thru!” Wootown Bagels commented on its post.
New owners, same tasty onion rings
For some, restaurant ownership is in their DNA.
Before Traci and Jason Knuth took over Bishop’s Restaurant in Wooster, they had family members who ran their own eateries.
In Traci Knuth’s case, her parents owned the now-closed Country Acres Restaurant.
“This is nothing new,” she said, one week into full-time ownership at Bishop’s Restaurant. “So far so good; we’ve had friends and family come in just about every day.”
When the former owner, Denise Dorsey, announced her intention to sell the eatery in January, Knuth knew this was their chance to make her husband’s dream come true.
“He’s always cooking at family gatherings and has always wanted to run a restaurant,” she said. “We knew they had a great reputation and had a good following, so we decided to do it.”
Once Dorsey accepted their offer, the Knuths trained alongside the veteran owner for two to three weeks before taking over.
Now in their hands, they promised the menu will remain the same. Although a few additions may appear from their family cookbooks.
Most importantly, Knuth said, the onion rings will remain while her husband bakes fresh pies every day.
Any further changes will depend on staffing.
“Three employees left when Denise left,” Jason Knuth said. “We’re trying to fill those shoes.”
His wife works full time at Akron Brass and part time at the restaurant, Knuth works full time with his limited staff, which includes his young son who buses tables.
Despite staffing challenges, the Knuths are excited to see what the future for Bishop’s Restaurant has to bring.
“We’ve got big shoes to fill,” Traci Knuth said.
Italian returns to Wooster
The owner of City Square Steakhouse and The Rail, Mike Mariola, is expanding his restaurant portfolio with an Italian restaurant at 365 East Liberty St.
Construction on the $5.8 million project began in March with a groundbreaking and is expected to conclude by late 2022 or early 2023.
Italian is coming: Empty Wooster lot to become Italian restaurant with loft apartments
This two-story 16,000-square-foot development will house the family-style Italian-American restaurant on the first floor and eight loft apartments on the second floor, according to a Daily Record report from 2021.
If all goes to plan, tenants could move into the lofts by the end of 2022 with the restaurant opening in the following months, said Matthew Long, a local attorney and primary planner on the project.
A 3,000 square-foot patio will attach to the restaurant with 23 parking spots along Liberty Street.
The restaurant was inspired by Mariola’s grandfather who emigrated from Italy and will celebrate Wooster’s “Little Italy.”
“We had an area known as “Little Italy” and now we don’t really have any Italian restaurants,” Mariola told the Daily Record in 2021. “I think there’s a need in the community for such a restaurant.”
It will feature classics like spaghetti, meatballs, alfredo, lasagna, chicken parmesan and pizzas.
Pho Bar is new in town
Among Wooster’s newest eateries to open is Pho Bar, an eatery focused on the national dish of Vietnam: Pho.
Pronounced “fuh,” the soup consists of rice noodles, herbs, meats and broth.
While commonly served with beef, Pho Bar offers options like meatballs, brisket, lemongrass chicken, pork chops and seafood, according to the bar.
To order online visit woosterphobar.uorder.io.
Two other expected arrivals
Two chain restaurant locations will open for business in the coming months: Beef ‘O’Brady’s and Subway.
A sign silently went up at Henry Station on South Market Street in late March or early April. It announced the café and pizza shop would close its doors for the last time on April 23.
In its place will go Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, which will open sometime in June.
On the opposite side of town where Cleveland Road meets the Dix Expressway stands a Subway.
Construction on Wooster’s newest sub shop location lasted through winter. Now all that remains is for it to open.
Subway did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.
Reach Bryce by email at [email protected]
On Twitter: @Bryce_Buyakie
This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: Restaurant roundup: New owners & eateries come to Wooster dining scene