BURGETTSTOWN - In September 2010, Phyllis "Penny" Walden purchased one of the last remaining historical buildings in the borough's business district.
The building, which dates back to 1872, most recently housed a gun shop and a flower shop, its period pressed-tin walls hidden behind shelving, but Penny Walden had a vision for the place a family friendly restaurant with her brother Rick behind the stove and other immediate family members lending a hand.
"It took more than a year," she said of the transformation from two small business spaces to a large, casual dining room. "We had to gut it."
STAFF AT WALDEN’S — The day staff at Walden’s Restaurant including, from left, Phyllis “Penny” Walden, Chef Rick Walden, Athena Buckoske, Carole Thiel and Carol Mendez, poses outside the restaurant located at 1709 Main St. in Burgettstown. The restaurant opened this fall.
-- Summer Wallace-Minger
Renovations included work on the building's pressed-tin walls and ceilings and its wooden floors. At the time the building was built, it was located near a busy train line and depot the rail bed now is a walking and biking trail and the pressed tin was meant to keep soot from working its way through the walls. A fireplace made from reclaimed barn beams and slate shingles was added. Lighting and plumbing fixtures were chosen to continue the "vintage" theme.
"We were looking for something that fit with what was already here," said Penny, adding residents have donated many old photographs of downtown Burgettstown and they soon will be on display in the restaurant.
This past fall her vision became a reality with the opening of Walden's at 1709 Main St. with Penny as the owner and business manager.
Chef Rick, a former steelworker who traded blast furnaces for a grill in the early 1980s, heads up the kitchen. When the steel industry experienced its first downturn, chef Rick left his job in an Aliquippa mill to attend culinary school and then worked his way up from dishwasher to preparing banquets at a Florida resort. He most recently was the chef at Bad Dogs and returns to the Burgettstown area after an 18-month hiatus.
They are joined by their brother Harry, who is the weekend host and buses tables, and sister Melissa, who makes desserts.
"Our older brother comes in on the weekends to help with the crowds," Penny said. "Someone said he's the 'maitre d' of Burgettstown.'"
Their mother, "Gram" Alice Walden, also is involved with the business, baking her signature lemon pound cake and lending her signature to the business' signage Penny had her mother's cursive handwriting made into a font for use on the restaurant's signs and menus.
The restaurant serves American-style diner food with a few twists. In addition to a full breakfast menu, Walden's also offers wrecks eggs, meat, vegetables and home fries mixed together and topped with cheese. On the lunch menu, shredded sandwiches and hot stuffed bowls are available. A shredded sandwich includes thinly sliced meats, mixed with vegetables and topped with melted cheese on "inside-out" grilled Italian bread, with the grilled side of the bread on the inside of the sandwich. A hot stuff bowl is hot sausage, turkey or meatloaf with mashed or fried potatoes and gravy, served in a toasted bread bowl.
Making the restaurant attractive for families is especially important to the Waldens, and they have included a special kids' corner, with a child-sized table, chalkboard walls and plenty of puzzles, games, coloring books and toys.
"This is one of the only places where kids can draw on the walls and not get in trouble," said Penny. "A lot of families come in now, and the kids go straight back there and grab a puzzle or a coloring book. If (the family table) isn't available, they just take it back to where ever they are sitting.
"If you're going to go to all the trouble of packing the kids in the car and driving somewhere to eat, you want to go somewhere family friendly," said Penny, adding she hopes Walden's will be a local alternative to fast food or traveling to Robinson Township.
Offering a full meal selection for their smallest clientele is important to Chef Rick, and the menu includes a "mini menu" with smaller meals for those with a smaller appetite, all priced at $5 or less.
"The way I look at it, I want all of them to come back, but I want the children to grow up and want to bring their families back," said chef Rick. "I'm looking at the next 20 to 30 years. Instead of living in the now, I'm looking at the future, and everyone always says kids are the future. They're our future, too. I want kids to pass up on (fast food) and say 'I want to go to Rick's and have bunny pancakes.'"
Another group they hope to attract are Panhandle Trail bikers and hikers, since the trail crosses Main Street steps away from the restaurant's front door. The restaurant is offering a $5 box lunch and will have water and sodas available for purchase during the warmer months.
Specials at the restaurant include a weekly 11 a.m. Sunday brunch and the upcoming Valentine's Day special, an 8-inch heart-shaped cheesecake.
"People have said he (chef Rick) makes the best cheesecakes they've ever had," said Penny.
The cheesecakes, including New York-style, chocolate, raspberry-chocolate, cherry and peanut butter fudge, can be ordered by Feb. 6 for pickup on Feb. 11-13.
Also, during Burgettstown Middle/High School's wrestling tournament Jan. 21, an all-you-can-eat buffet will be offered from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Off-street parking is available at the former municipal lot behind the building, and handicapped parking is available on-street. Accommodations for large groups and private parties can be made by calling the restaurant.
Walden's, is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. It is closed Tuesdays.
Visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/waldensat1709main.
For information or to make a reservation, call (724) 947-5365.
(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at email@example.com.)