JC Wine Cellars owners take on food operation at Steubenville Country Club

STEUBENVILLE – When opportunity knocks, Gary Meal says there’s a choice to be made: Grab hold and ride it to the end or take a step back “and wonder how it would have been for the rest of your life.”

For Meal and his wife, Janet, the decision was an easy one; this week, they officially began their partnership with the Steubenville Country Club.

“It’s just the same thing on a bigger scale,” said Meal, who with his wife has operated JC Wine Cellars in East Springfield for the past 15 years. “Whether you’re doing one party or multiple parties and events at the same time, it’s a challenge.”

The Country Club had been searching for the right culinary partner for some time. “Really, we wanted to bring country club food back to the country club,” said John Denholm, membership coordinator. “I’ve always been a big fan of JC Wine Cellars myself, and the board thought it was a great fit. Our members here really deserve the best possible amenities we can provide.”

The couple started JC Wine Cellars out of necessity.

“We were interested in being a winery, but state law dictates that you have to sell food if you’re going to sell or serve wine,” he said. “We decided to take the food service up a notch, a couple notches, and offer fine dining, cuisine paired with wines. People have responded. I’m always amazed at the clientele we have out there, people come there from all over the state, the country, the world.”

JC Wine Cellars is closed for repairs necessitated by a lightning strike in June which, coincidentally, is just about the time preparations for the food service handover at the Country Club commenced.

“Our building took a direct lightning hit, we had extensive damage,” Janet said. “Not structural damage, but it knocked out the electric and gas. Repairs are about 50 percent done, but nothing else can move forward until the gas lines (is fixed).”

That likely won’t be until mid-August, Gary said. So, with the restaurant temporarily out of commission, for the past month they’ve been able to focus their attention on the country club’s food operation.

“Cooking for parties and cooking for the dining room are totally different,” Gary said. “For parties, you maybe have one or two entrees to prepare and you know ahead of time what they are. With the dining room, you have no idea what people are going to order, when they’ll order it or how they’ll want it prepared. It’s a lot different.”

The larger venue will give them options they didn’t have at the restaurant. “There’s a venue we have out here that we don’t have, a venue for larger functions that will allow us to do parties of 15 to 500 people,” he said. “That’s something that was lacking at JC Wine Cellars because of its size. We ended up turning a lot of business away because of it.”

They said the menu will be changing, with a variety of meat, pasta and seafood dishes.

“I don’t know whether we have a signature dish at JC Wine Cellars,” Gary said. “A lot of people thought crab cakes was our signature dish, a lot said it was our steaks. We just try to do everything exceptionally well, make sure there’s plenty of variety for everybody so they can find what they’re looking for. There should be something on the menu for everybody.”

The food business isn’t for the faint of heart, he admits. Hours are long, “and you have to run a tight ship in the restaurant business or go down. You need a tight ship, and you need good, faithful employees who are willing to work hard.”

“It’s hard to make everybody happy,” he adds. “We’re in the business of creating smiling faces, but some people can never be pleased.”

Still, he says, it’s “a new challenge, a big challenge.”

“You’re excited, you’re nervous, you count the days,” he added. “But we’re going to hit the ground running. We have events booked for the next few months, into next year.”

To book events, contact Janet Meal or Andrea Benner, banquet manager, at (740) 264-0521.

For membership information, contact PGA Pro John Denholm at (740) 264-2821.