RIDGWAY — The building that is now Wilderness Trail Restaurant & Saloon on Main Street in Ridgway sat empty for nearly eight years until Ridgway natives Billie Jo and Josh Amacher brought it back to life.
The Amachers, Ridgway natives, have four children and two other businesses — Today’s Carpet and Furniture and Super Shine Tile Cleaners — but that didn’t stop them from taking over another, she says, despite having no experience in the restaurant business.
After watching the old Lumberjacks building sit empty for too long, the couple wanted to see something in it, Amacher said, and saw a liquor license up for auction. After purchasing it in 2018, they planned to restore and sell it, keeping aspects like the original flooring, colorful wall murals, a historical “Lumbering in Elk County” display and tree trunks in the front rooms. The business opened in November 2019, at first only offering service on weekends.
“We did our best to keep it like it was,” Amacher said, but noting they bought all-new kitchen equipment. They also replaced the porch beams, and used the upstairs deck and bar in 2020 for occasions like gatherings, parties and showers. Outside dining was a “huge hit” last year.
The Amachers did all the remodeling work themselves, she said. Purchasing and opening a renowned Main Street location was also a way of giving back to the community.
The plan with the menu was to change it often, bringing things unique to the area to it, says Amacher, including burgers with a twist and regular specials. Amacher does the main cooking herself, she said, but aims to have the employees know how to cook as well, and learn all aspects of the business. Wilderness Trail has around 12-15 employees.
The COVID-19 shutdown gave people the chance to try the restaurant’s food, Amacher noted, which encouraged them to come back for more when it reopened.
People appreciated that Wilderness Trail opened a window in the front of the building for takeout, Amacher noted, and curbside service, for those who didn’t want to enter the building.
This has been a full learning experience for Amacher, she said.
“It took being open and learning and seeing what I could do to improve,” she said, noting that she upgraded kitchen equipment as she learned about the process.
Goals include working in a Friday and Saturday night dinner menu, said Amacher, and slowly working into seafood dishes. Some popular customer favorites have included wagyu beef steaks and flatbreads.
Wilderness Trail celebrated its one-year anniversary in November 2020. The community has been extremely supportive, Amacher said, glad they rejuvenated the building and offered takeout during COVID-19.
The Amacher family typically travels, she said, but not in 2020, which allowed them to see and appreciate more of what’s around them in their native town of Ridgway.
The roadside establishment has seen its fair share of travelers, too, with lots of out-of-towners all summer long, Amacher noted, as well as large crowds during elk season in Benezette.
Visit Wilderness Restaurant Trail and Saloon on Facebook for more information. The business is now open Wednesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.