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Last call for a piece of history

by on December 07, 2017 9:48 AM

STATE COLLEGE — It would seem there’s no shortage of support for the Gastigers’ next ventures, whatever they will be.

Duke Gastiger is the owner of Spat’s Cafe and the All-American Rathskeller, which he runs with his wife, Monica. On Dec. 4, it was announced via Facebook the Gastigers would not be operating out of either location by the end of February.

The next day, Gastiger said he had more than 600 messages on his phone, his website had more than 40,000 hits and social media support was pouring in.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Duke Gastiger said. “It’s heartwarming.”

The outpouring of support, he said, was hard to describe.

“Our hearts are a little more gladdened with the support people are giving us, but I don't know if that changes anything in the long run,” he said.

Gastiger said he was not given a proper chance to renegotiate the new rent — he also claims he was not told what that would be — with the Herlocher family, who purchased the building in June. The Herlochers said in a statement they were not able to come to an agreement, that Gastiger had been operating without a lease, was paying below market value and had offered to purchase the two businesses.

Throughout the night of Dec. 4 and the following day, people with an affinity for the Rathskeller, and to a lesser degree Spat’s, protested loudly and forcefully on social media at the announcement. Late in the day Dec. 5, the Herlocher family released another statement, saying a new tenant would be operating out of the Rathskeller location and aimed to keep it much the same way generations of Penn State students and locals remember. They said the announcement would be made by the new year.

“We value the outpouring of emotions from Penn Staters and State College Natives surrounding the news about the All-American Rathskeller and Foster Building,” the second statement read.
“We are eager to address people’s concerns about the future. We bought the Foster Building to preserve this downtown landmark. We are NOT tearing it down. We are NOT replacing it with a high rise.”

The Herlocher family reiterated that they chose to keep the building intact instead of redeveloping the property and that a national franchise was not a consideration.

“So what comes next? The Skeller has remained a constant across 84 years and multiple operators and building owners. This is the place where our shared memories live. We all want this to endure as a place that has bound people to one another across generations,” the statement read.
One venture for the Gastigers and their team is almost certain, and that is RE Farm Cafe, a farm-to-table venture that Duke Gastiger said is near completion and just awaiting permits from the Department of Environmental Protection. He hopes it will be up and running soon at Windswept Farm in Patton Township.

“RE Farm Market Cafe will offer a unique dining experience that serves as a community resource providing educational opportunities while expanding the diversity of agricultural growth opportunity,” according to the cafe's website. “RE is designed to optimize a healthy community of individuals who value our natural environment, sustainability, have a concern for the future, and a commitment to healthy food, grown with responsible intentions. RE will set new food service industry standards for local sourcing and sustainability.”

Also not out of the cards is a re-opening of Spat’s in another location, nor is any other idea, Gastiger said.

The catch on RE Farm is that the 30-year-old Spat’s was supposed to be one of the major beneficiaries of what will be grown at the farm. Gastiger said he was not sure if he wanted to go through with finding and opening at another location, but generous people offered him spots just hours after the announcements went public.

One thing he did say was that while Spat’s was a more portable business and conceivably could open elsewhere, the Rathskeller is not.

"You can't take the 'Skeller out of here and have it go anywhere else,” Gastiger said. “Spats is a little bit more portable. It's a formula that could work somewhere else. But, being 66 years old, I honestly don't know whether I have the energy to do that, to go out and open a place.

"We're not ruling anything out right now. We've had some kind people that have already offered us space in State College. I've had several people that I don't even know in the last day tell me that they're well-to-do Penn State alumni and they want to buy so they can keep it going. So, who knows what's going to happen.”

He said his main focus at the moment was trying to take care of the 60 employees and honor the “sense of place” the Rathskeller has earned over its 84 years in continuous operation.

The word iconic is not used lightly on the 'Skeller, or Doggie’s Place, with the affectionate name people use probably being marks of their age. Its legend is that it opened just days after Prohibition and has entertained generations of college students. It is known as a place one could carve his or her name into a table or participate in a “case study.” As one person online put it: “Everyone should have a chance to not remember a night at the 'Skeller.”

The Herlochers said in a public statement that a new tenant will be taking over the space, and they will be looking to retain staff there.

How long people have to visit either the Rathskeller or Spat’s before February is unclear, as Gastiger said they do not yet have a closing timeline.

“The end game is the end of February. We have to be out. We are trying to make plans to stay open as long as we can. We have to assume that the businesses will be closing, and you can't shut down a business that's been running for 85 years overnight.”


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