Jean Kotkas literally grew up at Tony’s Mining Company. The 66-year-old is the daughter of the founder of the iconic restaurant, Anthony Cek. In late May, Kotkas sold the Cornwall restaurant to Jennifer and Steve Bushey, who plan to re-open it on or before Aug. 1.
A second generation miner, Cek built the restaurant at 211 Rexmont Road in 1974. He wanted to serve great food in an environment that captured the essence of the industry that made Cornwall famous.
“I was brought up in the restaurant. When my dad opened, I worked as a hostess then became a server. Over the years I became co-manager with my brother Tony and finally the owner,” Kotkas explained. “It’s truly been a family business. My son originally worked as a bartender and my grandson worked as a server for about two years.”
Her late husband Paul was also involved in the business as co-owner and president, but retired from the restaurant a few years ago. “Our home is a short walk from the restaurant, so if I needed anything, he could be there in a few minutes. He also tended bar over the holidays,” Kotkas explained.
She said Tony’s was known for its customer service. “We wanted to create a great dining experience for our customers. We had a number of long-time ‘regulars’ who would come in to the restaurant during the week. You had a bit more time to chat with guests, and many of the weekday regulars became friends. Many of the employees also became dear friends,” she said.
Kotkas said one employee moved to Georgia about 30 years ago, and they’re still in touch with one another. She’s even visited her friend in Georgia a number of times.
And since it had been in business since 1974, Tony’s served several generations of customers. Kotkas said even some former employees from years gone by would visit as guests. “It was really wonderful,” she said.
After Paul passed away in September, she began thinking about the future of the business. “He was my soulmate; my right-hand man,” she said.
Ultimately she decided to sell the restaurant, but wanted to be sure it would be in good hands. “I feel good that the restaurant will continue on — it’s in good hands. The Busheys check in with me about once a week,” Kotkas said on June 17.
Kotkas said as she was cleaning out her desk, she found some menus from 1974 — a 6 oz. filet mignon dinner was priced at $6.95, crab cake dinner was $5.50 and Tony’s signature items, the Company Special (a 6 oz. filet and crab cake) was $7.95.
Jennifer Bushey said the couple wants to maintain the character of Tony’s, which she described as a Lebanon County gem. “We’re planning to keep the original charm and feel of the restaurant,” she said. “We want to retain the copper table tops and copper plates that Tony’s has become known for.”
The couple is familiar with carrying on a legacy in the restaurant business. Jennifer Bushey is a third generation owner of the Manheim Twin Kiss, and the catering business was established by her father, Bruce Rettew.
Bushey said the couple’s game plan for the restaurant, which they’ll continue as Tony’s Mining Company, is now unfolding. “We’re not doing major construction — just aesthetic updates. We don’t want to disrupt the integrity of the restaurant,” she explained.
They’ve done a deep clean and update of the dining space. The carpet has been replaced with polished concrete flooring, which she said looks great in the space. A roof leak has been repaired, and the kitchen is being overhauled with new equipment. Restrooms have also been updated.
They’re also planning to add windows overlooking a patio that will be constructed. Bushey said they’re currently working with the borough on the patio.
As for the menu, Bushey said it will be modernized and updated seasonally to take advantage of fresh local produce and seasonal fish and seafood. “Over time Tony’s had become a ‘special occasion’ restaurant. We’ll update the menu a bit. We want to keep it nice but approachable,” she said. “We believe that some of the value is in the love that goes into the food.”
She pointed out that a lot of the items at their current restaurant and catering business including salad dressings and soups are made in-house. Produce from a local produce company, and in-season items such as tomatoes are purchased locally. Beef and seafood are from regional vendors that she described as select and high-end. “We’ll continue that with Tony’s,” she stressed.
Bushey said they will also retain Tony’s website and phone number: 717-273-4871.
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