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Herlochers Vow to Maintain Character of Rathskeller Location, Say They Tried to Resolve Lease Issues

by on December 04, 2017 8:24 PM

The owners of the All-American Rathskeller property say they tried to work through lease issues with the proprietors of the beloved basement bar and that they are committed to continuing its character and traditions.

Skeller owners Duke and Monica Gastiger announced on Monday that the bar, along with Spats Cafe and Speakeasy, will soon close because the new owners of the building at the corner of South Pugh Street and East College Avenue informed them their lease would not be renewed and the space had been leased to another tenant.

State College residents and businessmen Chuck and Neil Herlocher bought the property in June under the name Cornelius LLC. In a statement on Monday night, the Herlochers said they bought the Foster Building -- where the Skeller, Spats and several other businesses reside -- intent on preserving "the historic nature and location of this landmark building," when other investors intended to tear it down.

At the time, Neil Herlocher said"Business there will continue as usual. There are no plans to make drastic changes to the properties..."

The Herlochers said on Monday that they learned the Skeller and Spats had been renting "well below market rates" and had been operating without a lease since 2011.

"Attempts to resolve the issue were unsuccessful," the Herlochers said. "Our offer to purchase the businesses were also turned down."

When the news broke the two establishments would close, local residents and members of the Penn State community reacted swiftly with sadness and outrage. A #SavetheSkeller hashtag campaign quickly took hold on Twitter and the Herlocher's Dipping Mustard Facebook page was flooded with negative comments.

The Herlochers said as State College residents and Penn State alumni they understand the concerns and that they and the new tenant, which has not been announced, will carry on the Skeller's legacy.

"We want to assure you that as State College residents and Penn Staters we fully understand the historic importance of that location and memories made there across decades," the Herlochers said. "We are committed to maintaining the character of the location that was founded in 1933 by Pop Flood as the Rathskeller and Gardens until 1934 when Doggie Alexander named it The All-American Rathskeller.

"Our goal in the coming weeks and years is that Penn Staters past and present will walk into this location and find their memories of great times past still living there. The new tenants will be the latest in a long line of owners who have maintained the proud tradition of good times and good friends meeting in this downtown State College landmark."

The Gastigers have owned the Skeller since 1985 and are the fourth owners of what is the longest continually operating bar in Pennsylvania. It opened in 1933, days after Prohibition ended in the United States. The Gastigers opened Spats, which serves Cajun and Creole food, in 1987.

“It has been a great honor operating these two iconic establishments and serving this community and its many truly wonderful patrons and friends,” Duke Gastiger said. “We are grateful for the loyalty that people -- including our incredible employees -- have shown us over the years. We most regret closing with such short notice, but it was unavoidable given the timeline dictated by the new property owners.”

The Gastigers are continuing plans to open their farm-to-table restaurant RE Farm Cafe in 2018 in Patton Township. They purchased Windswept Farm in late 2016 to be home to the restaurant.

“We have been blessed with a wonderful community of employees, patrons and friends, and we have not reached our final act,” Duke Gastiger said. “With RE Farm Café at Windswept we have plans to take our innovative cooking and hospitality in a new direction with an exciting new restaurant concept for the area. We are focused on community and sustainability, and we have big plans for our next venture.”

Some Skeller and Spats employees will move to RE Farm, but the new restaurant won't be able to accommodate all of them, leaving potentially about 60 people without jobs. 

The Herlochers said the new proprietors at the Skeller and Spats location are interested in retaining staff from those establishments.

The new operators will soon make an announcement with their vision for the location, the Herlochers said.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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