“Being a trail business owner has its unique challenges. We have two different customers. We have local folks who come in here and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you charge that much for a beer and a burger.’ And we have people coming off the GAP riding very expensive bikes who say, ‘Why is your beer so cheap? Why are your hamburgers so cheap? You should raise your prices!'”
“I was a downsized computer salesman. Years ago my manager called me to a Panera and said, ‘It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I need your badge.’ I got in my car and drove home and vowed I would never let anybody do that to me again. I was going to open my own business. I didn’t know I wanted to be a restaurant and bar owner, but I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I started to look around and saw a lot of activity around the GAP. So that was the beginning of how I ended up here.
“When I bought the place, it was a convenience store that had office space and a bike shop in the basement. I remember having a meeting with my very first vendor and I told him, ‘Look, I don’t know this business. But I will. And here’s your chance to win a customer for life. If you become my partner today. I’ll become your partner as long as I own this place.’ We put a business plan together and we hooked up with the Progress Fund. They came in and said, ‘This is exactly what we do.’ We found the right people. They financed us and gave us our first loan to get the business moving.
“We meet people all over the world riding through West Newton. It always amazes me how many people heard of The Trailside. One time there were two couples sitting on my deck, and one of the ladies said, ‘I just came back from China and I was reading the Chinese newspaper and there was a story about the Great Allegheny Passage and The Trailside was mentioned!’ It turned out about six weeks prior a group of Chinese cyclists had ridden the trail and they blogged about it.
“We served our first beer on May 1, 2010. On the day I opened, my mom and dad came down and I said, ‘Dad, can I pour the first beer for you?’ He was choking back tears and he lifted up the glass and said, ‘Good luck and I hope you become profitable.’ I still have that picture in my bar for the first beer served to Roger Darby in The Trailside.
“Being a trail business owner has its unique challenges. We have two different customers. We have local folks who come in here and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you charge that much for a beer and a burger.’ And we have people coming off the trail riding very expensive bikes who say, ‘Why is your beer so cheap? Why are your hamburgers so cheap? You should raise your prices!’
“When the state shut everything down because of COVID we were at the beginning of the peak. I wasn’t sure what to do. I had a big payroll to meet. I had food bills that were due, and all of a sudden I had no cash coming in the door. I was scared to death. We went to takeout because one of the few things you could do during the pandemic was go on the Great Allegheny Passage. I never realized how important The Trailside was to the local community until the local community almost lost The Trailside. I had multiple people come in here and buy gift cards. The community of West Newton stood tall and they were very generous. Without them we just simply would not have survived.
“Since the pandemic we’ve had to reinvent ourselves. We’re figuring out how to do that. We have specials. We have live music. We have more talent back in the kitchen. And I believe we are the reason people are coming to West Newton.
“Owning a business, especially in this area, is the hardest thing I have ever done. It came with a lot of hard work. I’ve had so much personal self-satisfaction from it. I want to be remembered as the person who started The Trailside. Whenever it’s my time to move on I’d really like to see someone come in here and take it to the next level.”
This content was created by Anita Harnish for the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy and financed through grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, through its Community Conservation Partnerships Program and Environmental Stewardship Fund, administered by Rivers of Steel Heritage Area and Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Laurel Highlands Mini Grant Program; through funding via the Westmoreland, Fayette, and Somerset County Tourism Grant Programs; and with funds made available by the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy.