Half of the photos are retro, streetcar shots from the ’40s and ’50s, when steel and glass formed Washington’s backbone.
Otherwise, the place looks chic. It’s well-lit with 14 neatly arranged sets of tables and chairs, an unobtrusive and highly serviceable kitchen, an electronic menu affixed to the ceiling and a tree with stacks of snacks.
Wiencek’s Dairy Bar has kept up with – or surged ahead of – the times, offering a wide-ranging lunch and dinner menu, delectable desserts and a variety of other accouterments in a cozy, immaculate environment.
Yet, on the 60th anniversary of its birth, the Canton Township institution still embraces three links to its heritage: It’s still in the family, it’s still serving the soft ice cream for which it is renowned, and it still inspires a lot of smiles.
“I don’t know the right answer,” Stan Wiencek Jr. said last week when asked how his restaurant continues to thrive in a turbulent small business climate. “We try to offer a nice, clean atmosphere with good food at a good price. We try to make it a nice experience.”
Wiencek, 61, is a second-generation owner who took over from his parents, Stan Sr. and Helen Jean, in 1983. To satisfy changing and ever-expanding customer demands, he has expanded the business over time from its original reputation as an ice cream/hot dog shop.
“Restaurant-type food became a bigger part of our business,” said Stan Jr., now of East Washington. “We probably have too much on our menu, but some people like to come back and order something different. We try to offer a nice variety.”
A number of patrons keep coming back, as do younger members of their clans.
“We hear from a lot of people that they came here when they were growing up and enjoyed the experiences,” Stan Jr. said. “Now they’re bringing their kids here.”
Angeline and Domonick Patorial are among the multi-generational customers of Wiencek’s. They have been married for 66 years and go there along with their daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A granddaughter did work work there and a grandson does now.
The great-grandparents started to stop at Wiencek’s in 1958, after moving six doors down on Jefferson Avenue,
“We didn’t go as often as the rest of the family has,” Angeline said, referring to the Pastorials’ early years in Canton. “We went down for ice cream.”
She said the Wiencek family “has always made us feel welcome. The food is always good.”
“The hamburgers are very good,” Angeline said. “And the ice cream. The banana splits are really good too.”
Today’s menu is formidable. It features 21 entrees – including three pasta dishes and stuffed peppers – 42 sandwich varieties, eight salads, pizza, soup and an extensive list of side items.
This is not his father’s dairy bar, to be sure.
Stan Sr. opened it in July 1953 in a small hut with a walk-up window, in the shadows of the home he built in 1949 – and where he and his spouse still live.
Selections there were limited to several sandwiches and soft ice cream varieties. There was no customer seating; two workers, food, a food-prep area, a sink and little else could shoehorn inside.
The building, so to speak, was expanded twice, the first time to accommodate indoor seating for winter customers. It was razed after 30 years to give way to the current structure, which had been erected behind it. That provided for the spacious parking lot that exists today at 1729 Jefferson Ave. (Route 844).
Stan Jr., a 1970 Trinity High School grad, became the owner when the new building opened in 1983. At that point, he was as much of a staple there as the soft serve. “My mom told me I waited on my first customer when I was 6.”
That was 1958, during the Eisenhower administration, when the catch-phrase for the popular 34th president was “I Like Ike.” Around Wiencek’s, it could have been “I Like Ike and Ice Cream.”
Stan Jr. has eight employees much of the year, more during the summer. His son, Stan III, and daughter-in-law, Jennifer, are managers – and possible heir apparents. His wife, Sara, is a speech pathologist, but she helps when she can.
Family ownership may extend to a third generation with Stan III, and eventually to a fourth. Stan and Jennifer have one son, 17-month-old Carter, and another who is due in a month.
Life isn’t always, well, a bowl of ice cream for a restaurant owner. Stan Jr., however, is mostly satisfied.
“There are days when I’m ready to retire and walk away.” he said, chortling. “But I like what I do, and if my son and daughter-in-law step up, I can help them.
“Customers tell me we have the best ice cream in town. It makes you feel good to hear that.”