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A builder, a banker and one person with actual restaurant experience: the combination of builder Art Shingleton, Greg Smith, then a loan officer at Consumers National Bank, and the late Doug Wright, then the proprietor of a well-known drive-in restaurant in Alliance, may have been an unlikely recipe for success, but it has worked out well for Minerva Classic 57.
As the restaurant and drive-thru, located at 317 E. Lincolnway in Minerva, reach the 20-year milestone, Smith recently reflected on the challenges and successes of the past two decades, especially in the early years. Differences of opinion led to an early buyout by Shingleton and Smith of Wright's interest, and there were several menu changes as the restaurant struggled to find its niche in a market that included other successful competitors.
Eventually, the restaurant's main supplier, Gordon Foods, helped with developing the current menu which includes selections originated by individuals on the restaurant's staff.
The restaurant's dcor has also evolved over the years into a friendly, casual "sports diner" theme in Minerva's school colors, that blends with a menu that offers old favorites such as the "King Kong," two half-pound burgers, ham, bacon, American, mozzarella and Swiss cheeses, and all the toppings on a bun, as well as new items such as "Italian nachos," a homemade appetizer of pepperoni and fresh tortilla chips, smothered in alfredo sauce, topped with mozzarella, Italian sausage, grilled chicken, black olives and jalapenos.
Currently, Smith said, the most popular burger is the "Honey Bourbon Glaze," a half-pound burger, cooked over an open fire, covered with a bourbon glaze, cheddar cheese, bacon and onion tangles.
All burgers are made from fresh ground Angus.
Angus hot dogs are also on the menu, including a $5 "Build-a-Dog" selection that allows diners to choose any or all of a wide variety of toppings.
Beer-battered fish, made from Kenny Yost's recipe, remains a popular choice. Additionally, Smith said, they are "experimenting with a lightly-breaded cod" selection and will "kick off a cajun-breaded fish" selection at the end of July.
Menu from the baking oven include the "Mac & Dog," two juicy deep-fried hot dogs smothered in creamy macaroni & cheese and topped with provolone.
The menu offers a wide range of sandwiches and salads, including the new "Islander" salad. Dinner selections include chicken, pork chops, pasta and seafood.
And not to be overlooked are the 21 flavors of hand-dipped milkshakes.
Although in the early years operating the business was a dawn-to-beyond-dusk effort for Smith, he enthusiastically shared the credit for its success, noting in particular the invaluable input by his wife, Diane, who paid the bills and kept the books for the business - and baked up to two dozen pies each week for the restaurant - while raising the couple's two children.
Holly Abel began working in the drive-thru on opening day in October 1997. Abel, who is now drive-thru manager, says she never forgets the date since it is also her birthday.
Restaurant manager Debbie Yost, who was hired soon after the restaurant opened in December 1997, will retire at the end of July. She and her husband are planning a move to South Carolina.
Kitchen manager Aaron Preas, whose previous experience includes the former Cabana Club in Alliance, has been on staff for eight years.
Day-shift manager Tracy Sly has 15 years of restaurant experience. Smith said Sly creates "breakfast magic," a useful skill on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when Minerva Classic is open for breakfast.
Restaurant manager Chad Lautzenheiser's signature dish, "Chad's Seafood Feast," featuring fish, jumbo shrimp and clam strips, is now on the menu.
Another signature dish, "Judy's Homemade Spaghetti," was created by Judy Cooper, who came to Minerva Classic in 2009. Smith describes Cooper as the "heart and soul of Mezzaluna," a now-closed local restaurant, "and the best pie maker" anywhere. (If readers will forgive a personal note, I happily attest to the yummy-scrumptiousness of Judy's coconut cream pie.) Smith said the restaurant was "a little stale," and "Judy brought a new dimension" with her pies, pasta selections and fresh-baked dinner rolls.
In addition, Smith said Cooper's granddaughter, "Judy Junior" produces homemade soups, cakes and salads.
Minerva Classic 57 also offers catering for school functions, weddings, graduations and other social events.
The catering menu includes stuffed chicken breasts, slow-roasted roast beef, smoked brisket and pulled pork. Smith personally smokes all meat selections.
The business has a liquor license and serves four draft and 12 bottled beers. Other selections include a "margarita on the rocks."
The drive-thru is open Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday, 6 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-11:30 p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. The restaurant's hours are Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed on Mondays. The phone number is 330-868-3684.