LUCINDA - Contrary to rumors of its closure, The Wayside Restaurant in Lucinda is under new ownership, and its proprietors say they are excited to carry on the eatery's quality service for customers, longtime and new alike.
Nicole Maholtz, her husband Mike, and son Jake looked into buying the restaurant last summer and eventually took over operations Dec. 16, 2019.
The family had lived in Columbia, S.C. for the last 23 years before moving to the area to take over The Wayside after Jake's graduation from high school. Mike, who is originally from St. Marys, said everything came together well for the move to take place.
The family has, since 2014, also owned and operates The Forest Nook restaurant during the summertime.
It was at The Forest Nook where the inspiration to take over The Wayside came from.
"We always wanted to get back to the area and we were waiting for Jake to graduate high school," said Mike. "After he graduated last year, the timing was right and the opportunity was here."
Jake said he and his mom had been working at The Forest Nook one day when several customers had arrived and mentioned The Wayside was up for sale. Soon thereafter, they scheduled a visit of the property and met the restaurant's chef of nine years, Henry Castillo.
"We ended up really liking the place and its quaintness because that's how The Forest Nook is kind of set up," said Jake.
Mike noted he became intrigued with the possibility of taking over the business after discovering its sterling reputation online.
"I looked up the reviews and it was getting five stars," Mike said. "That's where Henry came in. Henry had to stay or we weren't going to buy."
Another component of Mike's interest in The Wayside had to do with the historical significance of the building itself, which was built in 1873.
According to Mike and Castillo, the building has seen various uses come and go after its over 145 years of existence. Besides the building's time as a restaurant, it was one of the first stagecoach stops in the area, as well as the site of a hotel, general store, and post office.
During the prohibition era, the basement of the building was used as a "speakeasy."
"It's been a little bit of everything from years past," said Castillo.
Today, The Wayside can seat approximately 78, along with six barstools available for those looking to take advantage of the restaurant's fully-stocked bar.
Nicole said most of the restaurant's staff, which totals four full-time and six part-time employees, has remained since the Maholtz family took over.
"They have really welcomed us," said Nicole. "It was obvious as new owners that the staff is a big part of our success."
According to Castillo, those thinking of visiting The Wayside for the first time are sure to find phenomenal meal options on the menu, noting a little bit of everything is offered there.
"We're probably one of the only places in the area that does our seafood from scratch here," said Castillo, adding fresh fish is usually brought in on weekends.
Patrons can enjoy a myriad of other made to order dishes like New York strip steak, ribeye, lobster, ravioli, and pies of various fillings. Unique feature dishes are offered periodically, such as Salmon Wellington.
The peppered steak and seafood seems to be the biggest hit among customers, according to the Maholtz. The Tomahawk pork chop is a Cajun blackened cut served with a Dijon mayo cream sauce, which happens to be Jake's preferred choice.
Having been to The Wayside twice before taking over, Nicole noted her favorite order was and continues to be the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.
Plans are in place to put forward a wild game special once a month. The special could start as soon as March and include servings of rabbit, elk, bison and wild boar to name a few.
Frequenters of The Wayside previous to the Maholtz family ownership will find the menu has not changed much and will be kept separate from The Forest Nook.
Outside, the Maholtz are considering installing a garden near the restaurant, which would provide Castillo fresh herbs to work with.
Castillo's culinary creations have helped to accentuate what the Maholtzes believe customers from as far as New Jersey, New York, and Ohio have come to know The Wayside has it all.
"You come for the experience of the place too," said Jake, adding regulars are treated as family and provided a spot to relax and enjoy a great meal. "The atmosphere and uniqueness of the place really makes it stand out."
In fact, the Maholtz family noted because the restaurant is at times filled to the brim with regulars, reservations are recommended but not required.
"We're looking at providing some more convenient ways people can make reservations," said Nicole. "Doing reservations through the Open Table app and on social media are ideas we've talked about."
Nicole said she has received questions regarding whether The Wayside's appearance will change much under new ownership. While a new paintjob may be in order, only smaller modifications are planned so far.
"We're making a couple improvements," said Nicole. "We want it to have the same feel and comfort.
Currently, The Wayside is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Those times will likely increase this summer to allow customers ample time to travel to Lucinda in nicer weather.
The Maholtzes say the restaurant could also offer corporate lunch gatherings by appointment in the future.
"We're willing to do whatever helps serve the community," said Mike.
Nicole mentioned she is thrilled with the positive feedback The Wayside has gathered since December.
"These small communities are gems," said Nicole. "So far, we've been very well-received and people have been very gracious.
"We want you to come out, enjoy a great meal, and when you leave, you feel like you're a part of the family."
The restaurant's Facebook page, The Wayside Lucinda Restaurant, posts information on features and specials often. To make reservations and get a look at the full menu, visit http://www.thewaysidelucinda.com or call at 814-226-7344.