When customers celebrate a birthday at Schwabl’s, the homey and iconic West Seneca restaurant, they don’t get a cupcake or a piece of birthday cake. They get a roast-beef sandwich – and a candle.
Why? Because Schwabl’s doesn’t do dessert. “We never have, and we never will,” co-owner Cheryl Staychock said.
Schwabl’s also never did takeout orders, until last year. “We had to,” Staychock said. “We can’t turn people away who want to spend their money here.”
But the waitresses, roast-beef carvers and bartenders still wear white uniforms even though they’re out of style.
“We have to keep the white uniforms,” Staychock said. “It’s the tradition of Schwabl’s Restaurant.”
Tuesday, Schwabl’s – which still seems trapped in some kind of time warp – celebrated its 175th birthday, with a brief ceremony outside filled with short speeches and government proclamations.
That’s 175 years, all the way back to 1837, a quarter-century before the Civil War, when brewmaster Sebastian Schwabl opened the first Schwabl’s on Broadway in downtown Buffalo.
The current Schwabl’s, located in the West Seneca hamlet of Ebenezer, dates back to 1942, when Western New York soldiers were just heading out to fight in World War II.
That’s 70 years at the same location, just off the Union Road exit of Route 400.
So tradition-laden is this place that when the last Schwabl family member, Ray Jr., owned it, he didn’t sell it to Cheryl and Gene Staychock until 2004, after they had managed it for five years.
The traditions haven’t changed. The menu still is headlined by roast beef on kummelweck, a fish fry every day and Tom and Jerry drinks served from Columbus Day to St. Patrick’s Day. There still are no bar stools; the owners don’t want to attract a large, noisy crowd at the bar. And customers still gawk at the 1905 brass National Cash Register.
The Staychocks haven’t veered from the successful Schwabl’s formula.
“The world is changing constantly,” Cheryl Staychock said after the ceremony. “It’s nice to have something that always stays the same.”
A co-owner who still waitresses there four days a week, she summed up the restaurant’s philosophy. “I feel like I’m always hostessing my own private party,” she said. “These people are my guests, and that’s the way I treat them.”
Schwabl’s has become one of those Western New York eating traditions, one of those places that native Western New Yorkers insist on revisiting whenever they return home. Middle-aged customers can sit at the same table where they once sat with their grandparents.
No one frets about nepotism at Schwabl’s. Kitchen managers, waitresses and beef carvers have their sons and daughters working with them. It’s all about creating a family atmosphere.
“The mystique of this restaurant is quite simply that when you step inside the door, you step back into 1940,” Gene Staychock said. “It was a simpler time. There were no cellphones, and gentlemen removed their hats when they stepped inside.”
The Schwabl’s history, of course, dates much further back in time, although details about the original Schwabl’s are a bit sketchy.
One Schwabl family member, David Brown, 72, who worked at the West Seneca restaurant for 49 years, knows all about the family history passed down through the generations starting in 1837, in the horse-and-buggy era.
“Sebastian Schwabl was a brewmaster,” Brown said. “He had a delicatessen-type operation [on Broadway], and he brewed beer in the basement.”
Some of that 19th and 20th century history can be found on the wood-paneled walls of the restaurant’s front dining room.
There’s what looks to be a framed ticket to a gala event inside Schwabl’s Hall, at 351 Broadway, on Dec. 10, 1910.
Tickets cost 25 cents, with “ladies admitted free.” There’s a seemingly older artifact, a discolored photo of the old Schwabl Bros. Sample Room and Restaurant, at 287 Broadway, with the tag line “Zither concert every evening.”
At Tuesday morning’s brief ceremony, elected officials talked about Schwabl’s not only as a local treasure but also as an example of what’s good about locally owned businesses.
“Cheryl and I are adamant about giving our customers value for their dollar,” Gene Staychock said. “Everybody comes in here trying to sell us cheaper things. I just won’t do it. Ray [Schwabl] was adamant about buying the best things and serving the best things.”
Elected officials toasted the Staychocks for preserving the quality of their product. The most succinct may have come from West Seneca Town Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan: “May all your kummelwecks be salty.”