Inside the Success of Wheeling’s Conquer The Cones Campaign

In an effort to bolster local entrepreneurship and support restaurants affected by the ongoing streetscape project, the community has been coming together to participate in Panhandle Cleaning & Restoration’s “Conquer The Cones” initiative that launched in late December 2023. The program was designed to encourage individuals to dine at downtown restaurants while they earn a chance to win $1,000 in cash 6 times over the next 20 months. It has quickly gained well-deserved media attention, public applause, gratitude and, most recently, some additional sponsors!

Dave Comack, owner of Taqueria 304, referred to the program as “brilliant, collaborative, innovative marketing” and its popularity of it appears to prove him correct. “I never thought this would take off like it did,” said Bob Heldreth, VP of Marketing at Panhandle Cleaning & Restoration. “People are going out of their way to visit these restaurants and that is exactly what we want. One person has already completed three entries.” 

Rabbi Joshua Lief from Temple Shalom in Wheeling continues to show support for downtown and Conquer the Cones. “If we want to live in a community that has cool things, we have to support those who are trying to do cool things,” said Rabbi Lief. “Just as my wife and I are honored to support Wheeling Heritage’s Show of Hands program, so too I was very proud of my friend Bob Heldreth at Panhandle for coming up with such a clever idea to help our downtown restaurateurs.  Since the start of the program, I’ve tried to make a point of going downtown even more often and have already turned in three completed cards, including stamps from all of the participating businesses.”

The extra incentive is important to local businesses at a time when many are avoiding downtown completely. While folks may need to park a little further away from their destination, parking can typically be found within a couple of blocks. Imperative staff for businesses downtown manage to do it every day. “There’s a perception out there that it is nearly impossible to visit downtown Wheeling. For those of us that still live and work here it’s just business as usual,” said Mugshots coffee shop owner, Grant Coleman. “It’s much more difficult to get around, but still very doable.” 

  • Additional sponsors join in efforts to support downtown restaurants at Tito’s.

Conquer the Cones has attracted many first-time customers as well as more visits from regulars to downtown Wheeling eateries. Owners of neighboring dining spots, The Belgian Waffle Shop and Vagabond Kitchen, both have seen an influx of new customers. “We have absolutely noticed new customers and a general excitement for the initiative,” stated Wheeling’s Vagabond Chef Matt Welsch, “It’s a great added incentive for folks to rally around, and it’s clever, too. I applaud Panhandle for their sense of community and their initiative in getting this off the ground.” 

Tara Kobasko, owner of The Belgian Waffle Shop enjoys seeing all the new faces and supporting other businesses, too. “I’m always excited to share about the initiative and encourage them to explore other businesses as well,” she said. Some businesses are finding continued support from existing patrons. “We have a very loyal group of regulars we couldn’t be more grateful for,” said Taqueria 304 owner Dave Comack. 

Many of the small businesses downtown are not unaccustomed to overcoming challenging circumstances. Mugshots opened their doors a week before the world shut down due to COVID-19 in 2020. Avenue Eats has found a new home at Waterfront Hall after losing their Woodsdale location to a fire. Vagabond Kitchen had originally opened in the McLure Hotel’s restaurant area for a short time until they needed to find a better space. The Belgian Waffle Shop opened shortly before their street was closed temporarily for road work. 

Despite all of the difficulties in the past and present, downtown businesses continue to push on with grit, tenancity, and community support.  “There were days when I felt disheartened and frightened about how to support my family and business amidst the chaos. But now, with the community rallying together and better efforts to help people navigate the roads, we’re surviving,” said Kobasko from The Belgian Waffle Shop.  

Lara Graves owns two restaurants downtown, Elle & Jacks and Avenue Eats. She echoes the sentiments of many by insisting on the importance of Wheeling’s downtown businesses. “Everyone is incredible and an attribute to the vitality of downtown. We’re all going to be okay!” as she encourages everyone to keep doing what they’re doing. “I think we sincerely have an incredible community that shows up when needed. We’ve always found so much support from them and will always be grateful for what our community has done for us.”

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While the general tone remains very positive despite the circumstances, it’s important to remember that everyone’s support for downtown businesses ensures their future. “The small businesses need people to continue to support us through all of this, otherwise we’re going to have beautiful roads and sidewalks leading to a bunch of empty buildings,” said Coleman from Mugshots.

“I’ve believed from the moment I first opened my doors in 2014,  that we have what it takes in Wheeling. Though it has not been an easy row to hoe, I believe we can do it. And we’re going to do it,” said Vagabond Chef Matt Welsch. “I see a downtown that celebrates our unique history and culture that people come and stay for long weekends, walk our streets eating, shopping, and enjoying music. One day at a time, we’ll get there.”

On Thursday, January 25, more sponsors were announced guaranteeing the program continues over 20 months with multiple opportunities to win. The continued support comes from Rohrig Financial, Paree Insurance, Visit Wheeling WV, WesBanco, and The Health Plan who are joining forces with Panhandle Cleaning & Restoration. “Panhandle Cleaning & Restoration decided to do this because we know what it’s like to be a small business. If in 1977 When Bob Sr. was just getting going, something like this happened, it could have changed his entire course,” said Heldreth.

Conquer the Cones serves as a powerful reminder of the Wheeling community’s commitment to supporting one another. By coming together for this initiative as well as supporting downtown Wheeling business in general, we can help them overcome challenges and continue to enrich our community. Let’s continue to show local businesses that they are not alone and that we are all in this together.

Here is a list of all the participating downtown Wheeling restaurants you can enjoy while getting a chance to win $1000:

READ MORE: How You Can Support Small Businesses During Construction

• Crin Joy is originally from the Pittsburgh, PA area. She obtained a degree in psychology from Wheeling Jesuit University. She has spent 16 years of her adult life in Wheeling and loves putting her psychology and social work background into everything from operational and marketing consulting, event organizing and anything else that helps Wheeling continue to grow. When not working on one of her many projects, she’s out and about in town or simply relaxing at home with her boyfriend and her fur kids.