In quarantine? Make memories: Altoona family dresses up for themed family dinners

Courtesy photo The Zavalanski family, form left: Suzie, Isabella and Butch, held dress up dinners. Above is the family on formal night.

By Dom Cuzzolina


Suzie and Butch Zavalanski, owners of Image Signs of Altoona, were in a quandary.

Like so many other small businesses in Pennsylvania, the statewide shutdown of “nonessential businesses” left owners wondering what the future held.

“We’re in fear for our business and for many other small businesses,” Suzie Zavalanski said. “And we are concerned for our health because we’re out working as support to essential businesses.”

At the same time, their daughter, Isabella, was dealing with her own uncertainties.

As a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she had to return home after the campus closed for a time, without an official call on when classes may resume or if sheád even be returning.

Suddenly, the whole family was cooped up in the house without much to do. So, the Zavalanskis decided to make the best of the situation: to stay positive and have fun.

“We’ve always been a very close family,ã” Suzie Zavalanski said. “We always sat down and had supper together when Isabella was at home,” adding that while she’s been away, they’ve only cooked dinner at home about once a week due to work commitments.

But to have a bit more fun with their family dinners, Isabella pitched an idea.

“One night she says to me, ‘Do you think you and dad would be interested in doing a ‘country night’ for supper?” said Suzie Zavalanski.

Isabella explained to her parents that a rental house off campus would have a cowboy-themed night every week. The Zavalanskis agreed that they would bring the theme from Indiana to their home in the Juniata section of Altoona.

They donned their best Duke costumes, pulled from the nooks and crannies of their attic and closets. They then set the table accordingly.

“We ate off of tin pie pans and drank out of Mason jars,” Suzie Zavalanski said.

The family decided to do it again, and again … and again — each time with a new theme.

“One night Isabella wanted to do formal night,” Suzie Zavalanski said. “So, I wore a dress, my husband put on a top hat and we had a candle-lit dinner with steak.”

The Zavalanskis began to share some photos with friends. Eventually their audience grew into separate group texts of family, friends, co-workers and even fellow church-goers. Isabella began sharing their fun with those following her Snapchat and Instagram accounts.

Suzie Zavalanski said that now everyone wants to know what the new nightly theme will be. She said that some followers are now having their very own “themed dinners” or pitching costume ideas to them.

“We’ve done like 18 of them,” she said, including:

n ’70s night

n Biker night

n Fright night

n Football night

n Pajama night

n Hawaiian night

n Construction worker night

n Fishermen night

n Hunter night

n Mexico night

n Christmas night

n Crazy hair night

n âSharknadoã night (they wore “Sharknado” T-shirts and watched the movie after dinner)

Suzie Zavalanski explained that there’s no method for choosing the theme.

“It’s like ‘what do we want to do tonight?’ Whichever one we like the most, we go with,” she said. “It’s all about making fun out of a bad situation in uncertain times.”

Her advice to other community members who are self-quarantining and staying home is this: take some time to make some good memories.

Mirror Staff Writer Dom Cuzzolina is at 946-7428.


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