By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
SALEM -- Inez Webb remembers helping her boss's son lug heavy trays to the kitchen back in the 1970s when she was a waitress and he was a teen-ager busing tables at the Timberlanes Restaurant.
That bus boy was Roy Paparodis, now 44 and owner of the Timberlanes restaurant, hotel and banquet center. The business celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
And Webb, still waitressing, is the company's most veteran employee.
White-haired and 69, she's been waiting tables at the Salem eatery since 1956, before it was bought by the Paparodis family.
"It's been my life, my way of getting out," she said, pausing to place a pair of polished salt and pepper shakers on a pristine white tablecloth. "It makes me sick to even think of retiring."
Paparodis said the Timberlanes business is every bit as hearty as its oldest employee, despite the negative impact the recession has had on the restaurant and lodging industries in general.
"The Timberlanes and I have grown up together in the Youngstown community," he said. "We've been through ups and downs before, and we'll do it again."
Facilities: The family business includes the main restaurant, which seats 200, a lounge and four banquet halls, which can be combined into one large ballroom to accommodate 500, and the 60-room Timberlanes Inn.
Its newest addition is the year-old Wallaby's Grille, a casual-dining restaurant with an Australian outback theme. The business invested about $600,000 into converting a small banquet room -- formerly known as the Pump Room -- into the East Pershing Street eatery.
"I added it to attract the baby boomers who wanted a casual place to eat," Paparodis said. "I felt we were losing that part of the market."
Paparodis believes a business has to draw customers from outside the immediate area if it's going to prosper in this small Columbiana County city.
He tries to keep the Timberlanes name in the public eye by advertising liberally and by participating in fund-raising events, chef contests and other community events around the Youngstown area.
So far, it's working. The Timberlanes Restaurant does a consistent business, he said, and continues to be a special-occasion destination for customers in Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull counties, as well as West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
About 40 percent of the restaurant's weekend reservations are from outside Salem.
"There are still plenty of people who appreciate dinner as an art form," he said. "It's more than just trying to get in and out in an hour. You're supposed to enjoy the ambience."
On Sundays the fine dining restaurant is a popular spot for locals -- about half its business that day is from "regulars" -- while Saturdays are generally a special-occasion night.
The inn, once Salem's only motel and one of only three between Boardman and Alliance, now has plenty of competition.
Once home-away-from-home to a long list of country music stars performing at nearby Ponderosa Park, the motel lost that business when the outdoor concert park closed.
How inn succeeded: But the inn has found its own niche by catering mainly to corporate travelers coming to the Salem area during the week and to weddings and class reunions on weekends.
The Timberlanes was a much different business when Roy's father, Odess "Soph" Paparodis, bought it in 1962, when it consisted of a single restaurant and a bowling alley.
The senior Paparodis already owned several bars and restaurants in the region, including the Bar Z tavern in Warren and the Rodis Gin Mill and Penn Grill in Salem, and he immediately set about making the Timberlanes his largest property.
In 1963 he added a cocktail lounge, the Oak Room Bar, and in 1967 he built the hotel.
Ten years later, while the bowling lanes were closed for an annual two-week refinishing, fire swept through the restaurant and bowling alley.
The hotel was not damaged, Paparodis said, and its 103 occupants were evacuated safely. The Oak Ridge Boys, a country music group, was scheduled to stay at the inn that night but arrived just after the fire was extinguished.
In 1978 Odess Paparodis invested about $1 million to rebuild the restaurant, replacing the bowling alley with banquet halls.
Growing up, Roy Paparodis said he, his brother and three sisters all worked in the business as teen-agers. He started as a bus boy at 13 and tried his hand at several other jobs, including cashier and bowling mechanic, before heading off to Mercyhurst College to study restaurant management.
After the fire, he returned home to work full time in the business and, in 1988, bought the company from his father. His siblings are no longer involved.
"It was always the plan that someone in the family would take over, and the plan seemed to include me," he said.
Paparodis said Salem's small-town atmosphere carries over to the Timberlanes, and he thinks of his employees and his customers as family. His biggest challenge, he said, is attracting and keeping good workers.
He and his wife, Terri, have two children -- a son, 13, who is named Soph after his grandfather, and a daughter, Stephanie, 11.
Soph already works as a coat checker for the restaurant; Stephanie isn't working, but she's eager to start, Paparodis said.
The owner said he has no idea whether one or both of the couple's children will carry on the family business tradition one day.
"We haven't brought that up yet," Paparodis said with a grin.