Café at Wittenauer’s adds to Poland's growing rep for home-grown eateries
By Ashley Luthern
When it comes to food businesses in Poland, it’s all about family.
The newest addition to the village is The Caf at Wittenauer’s, owned and operated by the Wittenauer family.
“There aren’t too many times when you can come in and not see a Wittenauer working here,” said Jessica Wittenauer, the caf general manager.
Jessica’s three brothers, Michael, Ryan and David, work there, and her parents, Doug and Terry, own the caf and the gallery next door on South Main Street. It’s the same building that used to house the family’s pharmacy and gift shop.
“We’re not a chain, and our staff understands that. The guests think: ‘It’s our caf ,’” she said.
The caf opened two weeks ago and joins Cocca’s Pizza on East McKinley Way (U.S. Route 224) and Kravitz Delicatessen in the Poland Library among the family-owned food businesses in the village that have opened in the last 18 months.
But the growing competition doesn’t seem to bother the managers.
“We have a different concept than Kravitz. They’re known for their deli meats and reubens,” Wittenauer said, adding the caf is getting praise for its chicken, egg and tuna salad sandwiches.
Deli owner Jack Kravitz said he was “a little concerned” when he first heard about the new caf , but said business has actually picked up since Wittenauer’s opened.
“I think that’s just because more people are coming into the area. The challenge with our location in the library, and to some degree Wittenauer’s and Cocca’s, is we’re hidden businesses. It’s not [Route] 224 in Boardman. Here you have to make it more of a destination stop,” Kravitz said.
Kravitz said Poland reminds him of the deli’s flagship location in Liberty.
“Poland for us has a lot of similarities to the old North Side [of Youngstown] and Liberty, and a lot of people from Poland were originally from the North Side. It’s a close community,” he said.
Kravitz said the deli tries to promote a “family feeling” with events like “French Fry Friday,” which attracts many middle school students who are within walking distance of the library. Middle school and McKinley Elementary students also flock to Friendly’s restaurant on Friday afternoons, too.
“In Poland, there’s really a family feeling,” Kravitz said. “For ‘French Fry Friday,’ we get tons and tons of kids that are coming from the middle school, and on March 10 we’re holding a St. Patrick’s family day at the library, too.”
As a pharmacy and gift shop, Wittenauer’s was a popular stop for middle school students, but the caf has limited seating and a different atmosphere, Wittenauer said.
“We’re asking adults to accompany them, and that’s been well-received,” she said.
Village Mayor Tim Sicafuse said there’s been a burst of business growth in the village lately, kicked off with the Kravitz opening in October 2010.
He said Wittenauer’s, Cocca’s and Kravitz’s had strong name recognition before opening and that many residents seek out locally owned businesses.
“If you want chain stuff, you go to Boardman. Here you can walk to Cocca’s and the library and the woods and Wittenauer’s,” Sicafuse said.