Jack's Grubb Shack might not be the sort of restaurant you just stumble upon, but once you find it, you'll be glad you did.
"I think we're Altoona's hidden secret," owner Jack Reiter said. "I'm really surprised that it caught on this quick. How popular it got ... I'd have never thought this in a million years."
Jack's Grubb Shack is located inside the Cesare Battisti social club on Beale Avenue in Altoona. There's no sign on the door, and you won't see legions of advertisements around town, but many locals have found it and have made it a popular destination.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Jack’s Grubb Shack owner Jack Reiter sits in the restaurant’s dining room.
Kitchen Manager Josh Herman serves up a pair of fried fish specials at Jack’s Grubb Shack.
"I try to specialize in Italian food, since it's an Italian club," he said. "And there's a lot of bar food - wings and steak subs and stuff. I try to make my food out of the ordinary from anyone else's."
Those "out of the ordinary" selections include large portions - super-sized sandwiches and a large stromboli that measures 18 inches long.
"Whenever they get their food at their table, I want the people to say, 'Wow!'" Reiter said. "That's my advertising."
Jack's Grubb Shack
Address: The Cesare Battisti,
3909 Beale Ave., Altoona, Pa., 16602
Phone number: 943-9620
Hours: noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
Price range: $4 to $12
Specialties: Wings, ribs and Friday
Smoking: Not permitted inside
Capacity: 200 inside, 400-500 outside (opens the weekend after Memorial Day)
There have been a lot of "wows" since Reiter, 44, opened Jack's Grubb Shack in 2007. At that point, the Altoona resident had been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years.
"This is the first time I've ever owned a restaurant," Reiter said. "Before here, I worked for the Blair County Ballpark for like nine years. I was in charge of all the food."
It was that job at the Altoona Curve's stadium - now known as People's Natural Gas Field - that brought Reiter into business for himself.
"Todd Parnell [the Curve's former general manager], he came in one day and said, 'I know this place, they really need some food in there.' He pitched it to them and contacted me and asked if I'd be interested. After that, it just kinda came together."
Reiter installed his menu and got the kitchen running, but it wasn't an immediate success.
"It started out with only 10 people a day," he said. "When I first got here, there were only 200 members here and 10 customers a day to eat. Now we're at a couple hundred customers a day and have almost 4,500 members."
The symbiotic relationship with the Cesare Battisti has been a boon to both parties. The club even remodeled the kitchen for Reiter a few years ago.
Though the door must be buzzed open, anyone - even non-members - can come to the Cesare Battisti to eat at Jack's Grubb Shack. But only members may purchase alcohol (memberships are currently $10 a year).
The first thing you notice about the Jack's Grubb Shack menu is its size. Reiter truly does try to stick to the old adage: "Something for everyone." And, each year, he puts out a new menu, adding new items and removing poor sellers.
"It's good and bad," Reiter said of the vast selection. "It takes forever to read the menu, and then you get the older people who come in here and whip out their magnifying glass to read the menu.
"But the variety is what I like. That's pretty much the only reason I have a big menu. ... I hate to cut stuff out of the menu, because then you get people going, 'Oh, I really liked that and you cut it off the menu!'"
Nights at Jack's Grubb Shack are often quite crowded, because the daily specials draw big crowds. Monday is taco night, Tuesday is pizza night, Wednesdays have wing and rib specials, Thursdays have strombolis and liver and onions on special and Friday is the restaurant's fish special. Saturdays and Sundays feature steak specials and chef specials.
"Wings are my most popular thing, but a lot of people love the ribs here. I would say wings and ribs are my most popular things," Reiter said. "We just won first place for our ribs at the Chilifest for the Humane Society."
"Fridays is unbelievable for the fish," Reiter added. "Fridays are our busiest days. I wish we had a little more room sometimes, because on Fridays the hallway will be packed [with waiting diners]."
One thing that will alleviate the over crowding is the return of the restaurant's popular patio area in the summer. The large pavilion sits 400 to 500 people and opens the weekend after Memorial Day.
"Last year, I started a summer concert series out back in our pavilion and it got shut down because we didn't have a license for outdoor entertainment," Reiter said. "We got [the license] back this year, so we're starting that again."
Felix and the Hurricanes will begin the concert series - dates and times to be announced.
"When we had bands out there, it was a really good thing. We got a lot of people coming," he said.
Reiter also has a lot of people staying. His kitchen and wait staff are very loyal and some have been with him since Jack's Grubb Shack opened.
"I'd have to push them out the door to get rid of them," he joked.
Josh Herman, 28, of Altoona is the kitchen manager at Jack's Grubb Shack and has worked there for three years. He said Reiter has made his restaurant a great place to work.
"As far as the food service goes, it's excellent," he said. "It's his business and it's local, and I like that. ... We're like a team, we're like family."
Jess Ruffly, 32, Altoona, a server at the restaurant, said the closeness extends to the patrons.
"It's a lot of repeat customers, so you get to know them pretty well," she said. "... They get to know about you and your family and you get to know about them. It's not uncommon to see the same people three or four nights a week for lunch or dinner."
Brad Muth, 30, Hollidaysburg, is one of those loyal customers. Muth, who works nearby, spoke to the Mirror while having lunch at the restaurant with some friends.
"We come here twice a week for lunch," Muth said. "It's very convenient [and] has very good food at a reasonable rate."
Asked what he thinks keeps people coming back to Jack's Grubb Shack, Muth's answer is simple - and the exact advertising Reiter was hoping for.
"I'd say the main thing that draws people in is the word of mouth on good food," Muth said.
Staff writer Keith Frederick can be reached at 946-7466.