Not much remains today that once was in place inside those walls, but many of the displayed photographs reveal a century’s worth of a family history along National Road in Fulton.
Generations Restaurant and Pub is perfectly named and is now operated by the fourth patriarch of the Duplaga family, Michael III. Duplaga graduated from Wheeling Central Catholic High School in 1985 and from Bethany College four years later, and then he entered the workforce as an employee of Ogden Newspaper Inc. After moving his wife, Alyssa, and family to Elkins, W.Va., to accept an accounts manager position, a job that placed him on a path toward gaining publisher status in the newspaper business, he opted out to return home to the Friendly City in 1998.
That’s when 336 National Road changed its shape, figuratively and quite literally, as Duplaga orchestrated a redo away from the Swing Club days, an era that welcomed both country music and disco dancing to the interior of the establishment. Gone were the first-floor bar and the illuminated dance floor in favor of banquet and reception areas, and the downstairs, once a small arcade and game room, was expanded to make room for his full-service restaurant and pub.
And now Duplaga and his father, “Butch,” are celebrating the business’s 100th birthday, an unlikely anniversary because of the declined economy compared to when his grandfather initially opened in 1916. At that time the city of Wheeling was growing in population, gaining 15,000 residents between 1910-1920 because National Road still was a big deal and so were the industries lining the Ohio River. Resting at the base of Wheeling Hill, Duplaga’s place was a stopping spot for those able to head west thanks to the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.
That traffic, though, was diverted by the December 1966 completion of Wheeling Tunnel along Interstate 70, the new way to travel east and west through the middle of the first capital city of West Virginia.
But the Duplagas simply adapted and reinvented.
“When my great-grandfather started the business it, was an IGA Foodliner and a neighborhood bar,” explained Duplaga. “And the place was really popular then because of the businesses that were in this area, too. The Blaw Knox factory was going strong, and Weimer Foods was very popular.
“By the time my grandfather took over in the late 1960s, he got rid of the IGA name but continued to sell groceries for the people in this neighborhood, and he also kept the bar,” he continued. “And the bar business was always called the Swing Club although I do not know how my great-grandfather came up with that name.”
Since reopening with a fresh look in 1999, Duplaga has continued to make changes to his menu and to the building itself. He added an outside stage, remodeled to make room for a legal parlor for limited video lottery, added a new deck along Big Wheeling Creek, and recently uncovered an expanded main floor to the restaurant and bar areas.
“It’s my theory in this business that you always have to do some sort of facelift to the place,” Duplaga said. “So, when I was making that decision, I decided to continue the expansion to the building that I started in the late 1990s, and now that it’s open, you can tell it’s changed the way the entire place looks.
“I would say since we moved home to take over the business like my grandfather and father did, I’ve probably added an additional 3,000 square feet to it, and now we can host the biggest concerts inside during the colder months,” he said. “Along with adding more room for dining, I also had the inside stage expanded, and the musicians who have performed here since have told me that it’s much, much better now.”
“Butch” Duplaga took over the Swing Club business in the early 1980s after being actively involved with the operation for several years. He and his former wife, Patty, also operated the Capitol Ballroom establishment on Saturday evenings before and after two Jamboree U.S.A. shows at the Capitol Theatre. Now Michael III is branching the Generations business to locations in Wesbanco Arena and near West Liberty University.
“My parents saw opportunities, and they capitalized on them, and I have always tried to do the same thing when I have the chance,” Duplaga said. “This is our third year inside Wesbanco Arena, and there are a lot of events when we do a very good business there. Some of them don’t make sense for us, but I knew that going in.
“Our location near West Liberty University has done very well since we opened in the middle of October, and we know there will be great times and slow times at that location, and again I knew it when entering into the agreement,” he continued. “But we will be as creative as possible to attract as many people as we can to all of our locations, and that means we’ll continue to have a great menu, a lot of live entertainment, and of course our menu specials.”
Duplaga and his wife are parents to five children, including four sons and one daughter. Two sons currently are involved with the Generations business, and the other three siblings are now in college. So, will another generation assume the duties as the next CEO of the family business?
“Oh, I am sure it will happen someday, but those are conversations that we haven’t had to this point because I am far from finished,” he said with a smile. “My wife and my children have all made a lot of sacrifices over the years so I could put the hours in here to make it to this 100-year anniversary that we’ve reached now.
“And we do plan to celebrate our 100th birthday with a pretty big party and a lot of specials concerning our foods, drinks, and with our live entertainment,” the fourth generation owner said. “I have that planned for the month of January even though the real anniversary is this month of November, but when we do celebrate, I believe all of our regular customers will enjoy what we have planned.”
(Photos provided by Michael Duplaga III)