It was supposed to be about her son’s 21st birthday and a game on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
It was 20 degrees at kickoff, future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre started at quarterback, and the Green Bay Packers sat in first place in the NFC North Division standings.
But despite the fact the Packers claimed a 34-13 victory over the despised Detroit Lions for the team’s 13th win of the year, the day became all about the Green Bay Brat.
“Even before I bought Ruttenbuck’s, I had the idea for Stadiums after taking my son to a Green Bay Packers game for his 21st birthday,” explained local restaurateur Lesley Antonik. “While we were there, my brother fell in love with the Green Bay Brat, and then I traveled around to a couple of other football stadiums, and I realized that every one of them had their own signature product.
“My thought was, ‘Wouldn’t it be a very cool thing to be able to get all of those great sandwiches all in one place?’ That’s how I developed the idea for Stadiums, and yes, the Green Bay Brat is on our menu, and it’s made exactly how it is at Lambeau Field,” she revealed. “Of course, it took me a little longer to open Stadiums than I wanted, but I was concentrating on Ruttenbuck’s, but then a friend who owns the building came to me and told me that he wanted a pizza shop. So we put it all together and opened about a year-and-a-half ago.”
Antonik also traveled to Chicago for an opportunity to research and learn about the Windy City’s brand of pizza.
“To some people in this area our pizza is upside-down because the cheese goes on first here at Stadiums. Cheese on the bottom, then the meat and veggies, and then the sauce goes on the top,” Antonik explained. “You taste more of the fresh cheese that we slice up right here in-house, and that’s exactly how they make it in Chicago.”
She was surrounded by the food service industry as a child as her father owned and operated several eateries and taverns while Antonik was raised just outside of Bellaire, Ohio. Soon after raising her children, she found herself with an itch.
“I’ve had this business in my blood my entire life, so it was something that I wanted to get back into once my kids were a little older,” Antonik said. “ And I ended up with Burger King over in Bellaire and St. Clairsville in 2005 just to get back into food service.
“I was with the local Burger Kings until 2007, and that’s when I started supervising five restaurants with about 120 employees. But then a corporate position came open, so that’s when I became an operations specialist,” she continued. “I had 169 restaurants in my territory, so I traveled a lot visiting those places and making sure they were operating the right way. If not, it gave me the chance to teach them, and I enjoyed that.”
Her position demanded that Antonik appear without notice to inspect a Burger King’s operation, and while most of those employees appreciated the tutoring, some did not.
“I looked at myself as a coach of sorts when I was doing that job. I was there to make them better once I identified the problems,” Antonik said. “The people who wanted to run a good restaurant loved when I came because they liked it when I was teaching them. The people who didn’t care hated me because they were frustrated. They didn’t get it.
“But then Burger King was sold, and the new owners eliminated the position I was in, so that’s when, all of a sudden, I found myself unemployed,” she recalled. “But at that time a friend of mine told me that Ruttenbuck’s was for sale, and I had never heard of it. So I checked it out a few times, and then in October 2010 we started negotiations, and we signed the contract on New Year’s Eve. In February we will celebrate five years of owning Ruttenbuck’s.”
Antonik recognized the immediate challenges concerning public perception and the quality of the menu items, but a half-decade later she is confident Ruttenbuck’s in Dallas Pike has become a favorite in the Upper Ohio Valley.
“It took use some time, but I believe we’ve finally been able to answer the questions I had when first getting into owning a restaurant,” Antonik said. “Where is that place? And, is it good? That’s why during my first year I did a lot of marketing that centered on the location because I believed most people saw it as a truck stop bar and not a family-style restaurant that you could bring grandma to for her birthday party.
“But now that’s what it is, and people know where Ruttenbuck’s is, and they know the food is excellent. We’ve earned that reputation,” she continued. “I knew people would enjoy the food and the service once they figured out where the restaurant was.”
Although her initial plan was to open a second Ruttenbuck’s location a few years following the re-opening of the original eatery, that Green Bay Brat still had not left her memory. So, on June 8, 2014, the ribbon was cut and the doors to Stadiums – Home of Pizza, Burgers & Subs – opened at 95 Edgington Lane near Frank’s Hairquarters and the Rose Bowl.
The eating establishment is open from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and from 11a.m. – 11 p.m. Thursdays through Saturday. Stadiums also operates on Sundays from Noon to 8 p.m., and it is closed on Mondays.
These days Antonik spends her days floating back and forth between her two establishments.
“And the two restaurants are two different animals,” Antonik said. “When I was working with Burger Kind, I was working for a quick-service restaurant, so what I did after buying Ruttenbuck’s was incorporate what I learned into the operation of a full-service restaurant. Some of it didn’t apply because of the differences involved, but many of those systems did fit.
“When I was preparing to open Stadiums, my brain went back to that quick-service restaurant mentality even though Stadiums really does not fit that genre either,” she explained. “In quick-service it’s all about getting people their food within two-and-a-half minutes, and we do not do that at Stadiums. Here you get that full-service taste because everything is made to order as those orders come in.”
While her corporate experiences adapted only slightly to the full-service atmosphere at Ruttenbuck’s, Antonik’s years with Burger King translated much more while operating Stadiums.
“Stadiums is a combination of the full-service system and what I learned while working for a corporation that owned a fast-food chain,” Antonik said. “Inherently, if you do not give your customers a good product at a good price with good service, you’re not going to get those folks to come back. That’s the key to any restaurant no matter what kind of restaurant it is.
“If you live in the restaurant world, you know when you go to work every day that there are going to be issues about something,” she said. “I look at it almost like a game because the fun of it for me is solving those solutions while also recognizing the learning curve involved so we can stop that particular issue from ever being an issue again.”
The menu at Stadiums begins with appetizers such as cheese quesadillas, broccoli cheese bites and fresh-cut and “Pizza” fries, and there are also several salads, specialty burgers, and a number of specialty sandwiches Antonik discovered while traveling from stadium to stadium.
The “Kansas City” is served on a hoagie roll with sliced brisket with sweet and spicy BBQ sauce; the “Pittsburgh Polski” includes shaved kielbasa, pierogis, caramelized onions, and brown mustard; and the “Louisiana Po’ Boy” boasts a generous amount of fried shrimp, a spicy mayo, and lettuce.
Stadiums also features a lunch buffet Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., and the menu is packed with 10 different pizzas, ranging from the traditional “Chicago Pepperoni” to the “White Sox,” a pie with parmesan, mozzarella, white cheddar, and ricotta cheese, and garlic butter.
“Our ingredients are very fresh here. Our burgers are 100-percent fresh; we cook our brisket in-house; the shrimp for our Po-Boy sandwich is breaded here, so it has a very light coating on it so you taste the shrimp instead of the breading,” Antonik explained. “After we are finished slicing the brisket, the shavings are incorporated with the burger meat to add that extra favor, and that’s an example of what we do here.
“We are using high-quality ingredients to produce high-quality menu items,” she continued. “It also has that ‘neighborhoody’ feel to it, but the food is much better than what you expect to get from a place in this location.”
Local consumers can also order from Stadiums by using their smartphones thanks to a relatively new app called, “MenuFy.”
“All you have to do is go into the App Store on your smartphone and search for it and upload it,” Antonik instructed. “Once you have it, the full Stadiums menu is there, and all you have to do is use it to place your order with us. Those orders are immediately printed for our kitchen staff, and our customers can choose the way they wish to pay for it and whether or not it’s a delivery or pick-up.
“We just started using this app last Friday, and a few orders have come in by customers using it, but we are hopeful that once the word spreads, many more will take advantage of it,” she continued. “Once it’s completely set up by the MenuFy Company, there will be pictures of every item on our menu.”
So now Antonik finds herself asking the same questions about Stadiums that she answered concerning Ruttenbuck’s.
Where is it?
Is the food good?
“We already have 2,300 Facebook ‘Likes’ on our page, but every day I still here people asking where Stadiums is even though we have a map right on that page” she admitted. “So I have been working very hard to let people realize that we are in a very convenient location in a great neighborhood and surrounded by several great businesses.
“I know most people know where Miklas Meat Market is because it’s owned by great people, and they do a great business,” Antonik continued. “So my hope is that all of that foot traffic sees that Stadiums is right across Edgington Lane, and I am always working hard to spread the word about a great, locally owned restaurant.”
Antonik believes there is a new culture concerning food that’s been creeping into the Wheeling area for several years now, and it involves a turn-away from what had become habitual when searching out meals served outside of the home-based kitchen.
“I see this as an exciting time in the food industry because people have grown tired of the same-ol’-same-ol’,” Antonik explained. “I see more people thinking outside-the-box more as far as what they are serving. It used to be that people were OK with a boxed cheeseburger, but people are more interested in different cheeses and different breads. That’s why Stadiums has such a variety of both.
“There are so many options these days because people do not want the drive-thru burger anymore,” she said. “Personally, I do not frequent many chain restaurants any longer because when you do, you lose that hometown feel and you lose the quality in the products. You lose a lot, I believe, but that’s not the case here at Stadiums or with the other locally owned restaurants.”
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(Photos by Steve Novotney)