PORTAGE - Many fans of the Sassy Sisters restaurant said the year it was closed was one of the longest of their lives.
"It was a community icon," said new owner Brian Feist, who, along with his wife, Jan, reopened the restaurant at 911 Caldwell Ave. last week to a crowd of hungry patrons.
Brian Feist, former executive director for the county's Department of Emergency Services, said he and Jan, who has a food-services background, decided to buy the business to do something for themselves.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Sassy Sisters cook Pam Moyer prepares a fish and macaroni and cheese dinner on Friday. The restaurant reopened under new managment after being closed for a year.
The restaurant was owned for more than 23 years by sisters Cathy Sossong and Joan Oshaben and closed at the end of 2012 for personal, rather than financial, reasons, Brian Feist said.
Once he and Jan learned they could buy the beloved and once-successful business, they immediately moved to purchase it.
"I love to cook, and I love food," Brian Feist said. "And this was successful when it closed. It wasn't like it was in trouble."
Brian Feist said the menu from when Sassy Sisters closed is almost the same, except for a few less-popular dishes, which will now be served as occasional specials.
But it's still comfort food and meals made entirely from scratch, Jan Feist added.
There are some new additions, like the handful of flat-screen TVs that line the walls, Wi-Fi and the means to take credit and debit cards as payment.
The roughly 25 employees who kept the place running all week were working there when the business closed, Brian Feist said, and Sossong and Oshaben are still around, too, teaching the couple how to run the business.
Waitress Lisa Kleman worked for Sassy Sisters for 18 years before it closed, she said, and in the weeks leading up to the reopening, she could barely make it out of her door before being asked about the restaurant.
"I knew I was coming back as soon as somebody bought it," Kleman said. "I missed it, and I missed all of the people."
Not every former employee is coming back to work, however.
Friends Joyce LaRue of Portage and Judy McIntosh of Cresson each worked at Sassy Sisters more than 20 years ago and returned Friday for a fish lunch.
"I've always liked it," LaRue said, but the two needed to come back and make sure the food was still as delicious as it was.
"Which is it," McIntosh said, laughing. "I hope it all works out."
The pair said they plan to make Sassy Sisters one of their stops.
Brian Feist said he was glad to hear that, since he and Jan Feist have barely had time to taste their own food in their first week.
Between the two of them, they've lost almost 10 pounds in the first five days - often going hungry so patrons didn't have to, he said.
"We didn't expect it to be this overwhelming," Jan Feist said.
But Brian Feist said people come back because they know what to expect.
"They know they're going to get good, quality food."