By Kim Walter
FRONT ROYAL - Owning and operating a business, especially a restaurant, in today's economy can be tricky, but for George McIntyre it all revolves around one thing: family.
There are four generations of his family associated with The Apple House in Linden - a hometown eatery, gift shop and ice cream stand. The business is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the end of May, but to say it's still the same as it was in 1963 is far from the truth.
McIntyre, 63, and his 33-year-old daughter, Katie Tewell, have even more to celebrate besides the 50-year milestone. The two have decided to buy what was the Main Street Deli in downtown Front Royal and expand the Apple House's reach.
Recently, the pair sat down in the new shop amid permit approvals, cleaning and general preparation to reflect on the family business and its future outlook. While they just bought the shop two weeks ago, they plan to open today during Front Royal's Wine and Craft Festival. The weekend after that will be the big anniversary celebration in Linden, complete with a donut-eating contest.
McIntyre said he knows it's a big undertaking, but said the situation just fell into his lap.
"We've wanted to come downtown for a long time," he said. "This just made sense with our 50th anniversary coming up."
It was McIntyre's stepfather and another local farmer who bought the original Apple House as a place to pack fruit. The place quickly turned into a retail location, though, which McIntyre said was the "best route for a grower."
While Rt. 66 wasn't there at the time, Rt. 55 brought truckers through the area, and the spot was a perfect place for them to refuel, eat and relax.
In 1977, McIntyre decided to move back to the area with his wife to help at the small gift shop selling fruit, cider and other "knick-knacks." However, when Rt. 66 did finally come through, the Apple House had a place on the map.
"Everything changed ... we had hundreds of new people coming by each day looking for something to eat," he said. "Now, we've always done hams and donuts from the very first day, but people wanted more."
So, McIntyre used skills from college to revamp a barbecue recipe - a food item that worked very well for customers.
From then on, the Apple House continued to expand. In 1978, McIntyre's sister introduced Alpenglow to the store, so a warehouse was built close by for bottling. More menu items were added, along with more seating and in-house and out-of-house catering.
The "big job" came in 1993, though, when a fire broke out, leaving the family with some "serious work to do."
"What was really cool about that was seeing all the community businesses and friends come out to help," he said. "I think that was when I really realized the kind of support we had around here."
Tewell came on as an employee in 2001 and helped to expand the catering side of the business. Just a few years ago, she and her father officially bought the Apple House property, along with the gift shop, ice cream stand, mini-storage units and neighboring 7-11.
Of course, now the Apple House Deli can be added to that list.
Hours and menu items will be different from that of the main restaurants. The deli will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday - Saturday, McIntyre said, adding that after-hours receptions and meetings are welcome in the new location.
The main food focus will be on sandwiches, barbecue and salads, with a variety of dessert options.
"Main street already has a few breakfast places, so we didn't need to bring that, and there are several nice places to grab dinner downtown, so that wasn't our place either," McIntyre said.
He said he hopes to also feature specials from time to time, and said they will be food items that aren't normally done. For him, a special doesn't mean "just knocking a dollar off the price."
The owners, above all, want to continue supporting their community and be good neighbors to other Main Street businesses. They plan to keep a list of other restaurants and stores for visitors to check out when they stop in the Apple House Deli for a bite to eat.
"It's part of being a hometown business," McIntyre said. "We should help each other out."
Tewell agreed with the friendly mindset, and said part of that meant hiring a staff that can be trusted. She said the respect is mutual between her and the 20-something employees, who are more like extended family members.
"We laugh, we cry, we work together," she said. "When you're in the restaurant business, you are working in very close quarters, so you have to be able to get along and count on each other."
Tewell is trying to be better about "laying down the law" when it's necessary though. She estimated that during a normal work week, she and her father probably put in an average of 50 hours between cooking, managing, interacting with customers and keeping track of the business and financial end of things.
McIntyre considers himself lucky to be able to work so closely with his family, and at something that he loves. As he listed different menu items, he managed to end the description with "that's some good food."
The owners said it's important to believe in the product they put out, whether it's a plate of food or a local wine or barbecue sauce in the gift shop - but that's all part of the job.
"I guess the funny part of the word 'work,'" McIntyre said. "Work is toil, sitting at my desk going through the books ... but being with the public, cooking, giving back to the community ... that's not work. That's fun."
Tewell said she wonders if the new deli space will last very long, as it doesn't compare to the large banquet room at the Apple House restaurant in Linden. However, that might just be her inclination to always think bigger.
"The word 'Winchester' has already been tossed around, and I've always wanted a place with a bar," she said. "In the business, we are never satisfied with what we have, and I'm not even talking in terms of money. I just don't ever want to bored."
McIntyre plans to have a guestbook in the new location. He said the book has acted like an extra staff member at the restaurant, since he can look through it and find out what parts of the world customers are coming from, what they like and what needs improvement.
"That thing has definitely made realize when some people are just having a bad day," he said. "But when you want to celebrate and have a good time, food will be involved, so most people come to us in a good mood. If not, then I hope we can change that."
For more information on The Apple House, go to www.theapplehouse.net or look them up on Facebook.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org