Still Isaly's after all these years
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. -- John Hughes stops at Isaly's on South Market Street at least two or three times a week for breakfast.
"It's close, and the food is good," said the 61-year-old Lawrence County man.
It's a stop he fondly remembers making as a child with his father to buy a milkshake on the way to the movie theater.
The movie theater is gone, but the New Wilmington Isaly's has continued for about 80 years. It was once part of the regional chain that boasted more than 400 ice cream and deli shops and more than 45 dairies throughout the region. The company's Web site has a partial list of Isaly's stores still operating.
While most other Isaly's restaurants have gone by the wayside, New Wilmington's little shop kept going through numerous owners who kept the name and same location.
Present owner Rusty Smith of Neshannock Township says he knows it's customers like Hughes that have kept the place going over the years.
"These customers came in long before I was the owner. I'm kind of like the bus driver right now. They kind of tell me where to go," Smith said.
"It's as much their business as it is mine," he added.
Old-style shake machines
Old-style milkshake blenders adorn the counter near the front door near the selection of ice cream. A little farther back is the customer counter and Smith's grill, and beyond that point is more seating.
Some Isaly's favorites, including Chipped Chopped Ham and Whitehouse ice cream (vanilla with cherries), are still on the menu.
An eclectic group of visitors -- townspeople, and professors and students from Westminster College -- gather each morning for eggs, bacon and hash browns.
And each morning a core group of eight to 10 men gather for coffee and talk at Isaly's.
"It's the social and political center of town. It's where all of the world's problems get solved," one said.
Hughes said he likes to refer to them as the "weathermen."
"They don't have nothing else to talk about but the weather," he said.
Lawrence Weaver of Pulaski Township, who will be 90 years old later this month, has made Isaly's a morning stop for the past 30 years since retiring as a railroad engineer.
"I sometimes come twice a day if I don't feel like making my own food," said Weaver, who drives himself to the restaurant.
He is part of the gang that meets each morning that goes over the recent events in the borough.
"We find out all the important stuff like where the fire department was last night," said Dennis Murphy.
David Swaney, a veterinarian whose office is across the street, said he's been coming to the restaurant since locating in New Wilmington in 1968. He agrees with Murphy.
"We learn it all here. It's kind of like an Amish gossip tree," he said referring to the Old Order Amish in the area who have a habit of spreading news to other Amish with amazing speed.