CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WV News) — Minard’s Spaghetti Inn, the oldest Italian restaurant in northern West Virginia, is celebrating 85 years in business this month.
“(It’s) pretty amazing. We’ve gone through three generations of ownership. What makes it unique is it’s my grandmother’s house. It’s really hard to explain because as kids we would play there. You’d go to your grandmother’s house and that’s where we went,” said Sam Minardi, owner of Minard’s.
“We’re actually the oldest Italian restaurant in this area, and we’re the second oldest in the state of West Virginia. We’re turning 85 this year, so we’ve been here a while,” said Heather Gillespie, general manager of Minard’s Spaghetti Inn in a previous interview.
Minardi notes that the circumstances in which the restaurant was opened are unique since it was formed out of necessity.
“I think what’s really unique about this place is how it was formed. It wasn’t formed because they had this desire to make a restaurant. They had to figure out a way to make money. My grandfather was laid off from work,” Minardi said.
“My grandmother would serve spaghetti from her dining room table, which is that big brown table when you walk in. That’s her dining room table in the same location,” Minardi said.
After beginning the restaurant in 1937, Michael and Rose Minard tapped into the market of a nearby tin mill’s employees.
In 1938, Michael’s brother Samuel and Samuel’s wife, Agnes, joined the business as Minard’s grew popular with the locals and that has been the case ever since.
“There used to be a tin mill down in the Summit Park area. On shift changes, people would walk by there so she would serve spaghetti as a way to make extra money. Then when he got laid off and had to find work, they kind of opened it up into more of a regular restaurant,” Minardi said.
“Then it became popular and (they) brought in my great aunt and uncle who lived in the other unit next door and opened the whole first floor up a few years later. That’s how it really started blossoming. There’s always been a lot of people involved, family involved,” Minardi said.
Eventually, the restaurant outgrew the house it began in, so the Minard family began to gradually grow the house with additions into the restaurant as it is today.
Along with three generations of ownership, Minard’s has served at least that many generations of customers.
“Just like we grew up there, a lot of our customers did, too. When they were kids, that’s where their parents took them when it was Sunday after church or on Friday night. When I was younger and I was cooking in the kitchen or I was serving tables as I got older, you got to know a lot of the customers,” Minardi said.
“You’d see the same faces and as people would grow up, the little kids one day would show up there for their prom date and then they get older and they’re holding wedding rehearsal dinners and things like that,” Minardi said.
This generational customer loyalty has helped Minard’s become a special place for some families.
“Through generations, when they were kids, that’s where they went. Then they become young adults and then when they have kids and a family, they still come back, so it’s been a cycle,” Minardi said.
“People have been around and it’s become part of their family, too, in a lot of ways,” Minardi said.
Being the oldest restaurant in the area, Minard’s was the birthplace of multiple household names in the area’s Italian dining restaurants.
“If you look around North Central West Virginia and even places in southern West Virginia, they were all started in one kitchen and it’s the one right there on Kelly Hill at Minard’s. I think right now, there’s at least four other restaurants that were born in Minard’s,” Minardi said.
“It’s something special to know that most of the Italian restaurants in this area — Oliverio’s, Twin Oaks, Muriale’s — they all started here. They got their roots here at Minard’s,” Gillespie said.
Recipes have changed, but the area’s Italian cuisine’s roots run deep and lead back to Minard’s.
“When you go to these other places, everything’s not the same, but you’ll see how similar the dishes are because at one time it was all one recipe. Everyone put their own little spin on it, I’m sure, and changed things,” Minardi said.
“A big part of our legacy is being not just the first and long-standing establishment that we are, but being the birthplace of a lot of other places, (which is) kind of the reason that we have so many independent Italian restaurants in North Central West Virginia,” Minardi said.
To celebrate the milestone of turning 85, Minard’s will be celebrating through the summer, starting with specials this month.
“We have a bunch of stuff planned for this month. One of the most popular things we do, and we usually only do it a couple times of year usually … we do the Italian buffet and we’re going to do that every Saturday night through the month of May,” Minardi said.
“Our birthday is actually May 24. On May 24, we’re going to have another special night. We’re going to have some music and things like that,” Minardi said. “I know on May 24 we’re going to do something where we have the accordion player from the Italian Festival is going to be there. … We’re going to do some pretty cool stuff.”
Weekly specials and Saturday buffets will be offered through May.
“We’re doing the Saturday night buffets and then our plan is on the anniversary night, it’ll be all-you-can-eat spaghetti or rigatoni for $10. Then we also have a couple other ones like the sampler platters,” Minardi said.
“Of course we have the Minard’s favorite duo for two. We were formed in 1937, so we’re going to charge $19.37 and you get an appetizer to share, you get the soup and salads — a two way combination. … I think that’ll be a big hit. … Those will be Monday-Friday and then of course Saturday night, you have the buffet,” Minardi said.
The party doesn’t stop at the end of the month, Minardi said, as Minard’s plans to celebrate throughout the summer all the way up to the Italian Heritage Festival.
“We’re not going to stop at the end of May. We’re kind of going to roll this through the summer,” Minardi said.
“Once May is over, we’re going to look into June and we’re going to continue some anniversary celebrations all the way up to the Italian Festival, which will kind of be the climax of it all,” Minardi said.
Regardless of circumstances, Minard’s can always rely on their customers, Minardi said.
“It’s pretty amazing to see today because you see restaurants come and go. Something like this that’s been around for eight and a half decades is pretty amazing,” Minardi said. “You’re always going to have competitors open up — big chains, other independent restaurants — but as long as you continue to put out the same quality of food and have the same attention to detail, we’ve managed to weather a lot of storms.”
“It’s never easy being an independent restaurant, even in the best of times. But coming out of COVID, it’s been really hard getting your customers back. Of course, everything else is going wrong with inflation. Then (there’s) the competition. We’ve got a big chain opening up again. They come all the time. That’ll hit. That’ll hurt for a while. Everybody likes to try the new place, but our loyal customers will be there,” Minardi said.