By Jeanne Starmack
The writing wasn’t on the wall, but it was on the window of the bar and restaurant John A. Walters started in 1945.
Walters started The Elmton as a bar, but then he started serving pizza.
Did he have a special Italian recipe?
No, said his grandson Jack Walters, who now runs the Elmton with his mother, Marianne. John Walters was German, not Italian. But he experimented on customers until he got it right.
One night, as the story goes, a customer tasted one of those experiments and proclaimed, “Now that’s real pizza.”
On his way out, he wrote the words “real pizza” on the window. When the window steamed up, the words were visible. The Elmton’s reputation as the place to get real Italian pizza was born.
Today, the restaurant has changed. It’s grown bigger, with his grandfather’s dream of making the bar into a restaurant now a reality, said Walters.
But the pizza hasn’t changed.
The restaurant starts making its own dough, which is never frozen, at 4:30 a.m. It has two pizza ovens and no conveyor belts — the pizzas are baked on bricks. Every pie has green peppers on it because that’s the way his grandfather did it, Walters said.
If you aren’t in the mood for pizza, you could always try the broasted chicken.
The Elmton acquired a Broasters franchise in 1958, and the fresh chicken is marinated, breaded and cooked under pressure for 9 minutes. It doesn’t absorb the oil like traditionally fried chicken does, he said, so it’s better for you.
In between its two signature favorites is a full menu of dinners and sandwiches.
On Fifth Street between Elm and Sexton streets for 65 years, The Elmton (the name’s a combination of Elm and Sexton) has been such a community fixture that the Struthers City Council thanked the owners with a proclamation at a recent meeting.
“We have people from out of town call and say, “When are you closing? We don’t want to miss you,” Walters said of some people’s tendency to plan their visits around the Elmton’s yearly shutdown the last week in July.
“We’re a tradition,” Walters said, adding that the Elmton has a bigger restaurant feel, but is still a neighborhood place.
The Elmton also keeps its prices down, he said, which may have helped them in the bad economy as people turned away from higher-priced chains.
He and his mother put money back into their business, he said.
“Every time we shut down, I try to do something,” he said. “And people notice that.”
Walters has thought about franchising the restaurant but hasn’t because he believes that people just don’t realize how hard you have to work at your own business.
“You have to put a lot of hours in. We stay on top of everything,” he said, and he and his mother are not above clearing tables or running the pizza ovens.
Add to all that “a great crew and support from the community,” said Walters, and you have the recipe for the Elmton’s success.