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Find the right words to describe pine forest room can be a challenge. Even the owner, Liz Grove, stops to collect her thoughts before moving on. “We are a destination,” she says. “We are a concert hall for the university community, but not just for students. We are a place to inspire local musicians to create and collaborate. We are a place to relax, hang out and have a good time, but we are not a tavern.
Indeed, the slogan “Eat. Beverage. Listen,” barely scratches the surface of the total experience to be had at the site, which opened in June 2020 at the location of the former Old Oak Tavern in Pine Grove Mills. Grove’s initial vision of an “upscale casual restaurant and bar with an emphasis on live music and a local menu” is coming closer. Unlike the Old Oak Tavern’s Victorian decor, the early 20th-century art nouveau-inspired ambiance recalls the building’s vaudeville heritage.
Grove, a native of Bellefonte, is well equipped to lead such an enterprise. After earning a piano degree from Penn State, she moved to New York to work in the music business for 20 years. “I loved music and wanted to be around creative people,” she said. Working in promotion and distribution for the radio and recording industries helped her learn various aspects of a dynamic and challenging industry. “I saw all these amazing things and then I came back.”
In 2001, she moved back to Happy Valley to help her father run his student housing rental business. When she died, she needed a new business. A series of serendipitous events led her to come into contact with the tavern’s former owners, Steve and Kathy Herr, and the opportunity presented itself. She bought the building and the existing liquor license and set about making her vision a reality.
“My other jobs gave me the experience I needed to manage most aspects of a hospitality business,” she said. “For the things I couldn’t do on my own, so many people came together to help in so many ways. This is what happens when something is needed.
One aspect she was unfamiliar with was selecting and preparing food for the restaurant. That help came in the form of Tory Glossner, former chef of the RE Farm Cafe at Windswept Farm at State College, who sources fresh, local ingredients from local farms and growers for the ever-changing dinner menu, casual fare and Sunday brunch selections. .
“One of the unexpected results of the way we run our business is how locally focused we are,” Grove said. “We work with over 35 farmers and suppliers to source our food, and with hundreds of local and regional musicians to book entertainment. All of our staff are local. So we are definitely a craft business. Having these local connections can mean the difference between success and failure.
The entertainment model is where Grove’s background shines through. She was inspired by Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks in Millheim, another locally sourced venue offering a range of live performances by local and touring musicians.
“The difference is that we want to offer a bit of every genre – classical, jazz, bluegrass, rock – as well as comedy, talks, poetry readings, film screenings and more,” Grove said. “There is so much talent in this field, but few places do not cater to the university clientele. We didn’t want to be another sports bar, another burger and beer restaurant. »
Live music is played at least twice a week on the main stage downstairs; a large private room upstairs can be reserved for private events and parties. Although reservations are not required, customers are encouraged to make reservations through the Resy app. While the main dining room seats up to 80 people, a typical evening without music might consist of 20 to 35 dinner reservations made through the app, Grove said. These guests are an eclectic mix of local residents and Penn State’s international, cross-cultural population of students and faculty.
“Penn State attracts people from all over the world, but just a few miles from the restaurant are families living a few miles from where their ancestors lived 200 years ago,” Grove said. “Everyone brings their own perspectives and expectations to our food and music. It’s a brilliant intersection between the local and the international and that means we’re constantly challenged – which we absolutely love.