All in the family: For four generations, Penn Gables restaurant serving Italian food, familial atmosphere

EBENSBURG – Jim Finn feels right at home at Penn Gables Restaurant and Lounge.

He should. He’s been there all of his life.

“As soon as I could push a lawn mower or wash dishes, I was here,” he said. “I’ve never had another job.”

Finn, who co-owns the eatery with his siblings, Amy and Tim, is the fourth generation to uphold his family’s tradition of homemade Italian cuisine at the restaurant right along Route 22.

Penn Gables started when Finn’s great-grandparents, the Stefanons, opened the restaurant right after Prohibition.

“It looked like a house,” Finn said. “The story goes that the original place had gables on the front, and the William Penn Highway ran in front of it, so that’s where the name came from.”

His great-grandparents kept adding to it, “little by little,” and in the mid-1940s, Finn’s grandparents took over the business.

Jim’s parents, Jim and Jeanne, became fully involved with the restaurant in the 1960s after his father quit his job with the Pennsylvania State Police.

“My dad was originally a state trooper,” Finn said. “He was single and lived in the barracks right across the road [from Penn Gables]. My grandmother kept a table to feed the guys who lived over there. The troopers weren’t allowed to wear their uniforms in here because they served alcohol. My mother waitressed at the time, and that’s how they met.

“My dad quit the force in 1965 because they needed help here.”

Finn now operates the restaurant with his siblings and cherishes the opportunity to work with his family.

“Whoever is here is in charge, and you can always count on one another,” he said. “There’s always someone to lean on. We share a common bond: We grew up in this business.

“Because this is an independent restaurant, we have to work harder. We are responsible for four generations of family tradition. We are all hands-on.”

Penn Gables offers a variety of Italian food, including homemade lasagna, ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, with homemade sauce and meatballs, and chicken and veal parmesan.

Finn emphasized, however, that one of the restaurants’ specialities is its pizza.

“People love our pizza,” he said.

It was that pizza that drew Robert Titterington, a first-time customer, to the restaurant on a recent afternoon.

“I was riding up 22, and I needed to stop for lunch,” said Titterington, of Berlin. “I asked my phone who had the best pizza in town, and here I am.”

“She [the phone] didn’t lie,” he added, with a laugh. “This is excellent thin-crust pizza.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, but just two seats down the bar that day, Bernie Tirabassi of Ebensburg has frequented Penn Gables for years.

“I eat here a lot,” Tirabassi said. “My No. 1 meal is Friday fish, and pizza is No. 2.”

There are a “million” reasons Tirabassi returns again and again to the eatery.

Among the restaurant’s menu offerings, Finn loves the ravioli, while server Ginny Wilk of Cresson likes Penn Gables’ pizza, salads, steaks and ribs.

“It’s homemade cooking, homemade food,” Wilk said, “and it’s good.”

Wilk has worked at Penn Gables for 14 years and is fond of its familiar atmosphere.

“I’ve known them all my life,” she said. “We went to school together. We’re all friends.”

That environment, along with the food, is the driving force behind Penn Gables.

“This is like a second home,” Finn said. “We were always here, from the time we could walk. It becomes a part of you. No matter where you are in life, you can always come back. It’s like coming home.”

Mirror staff writer Cory Dobrowolsky can be reached at 946-7428.