Carriage Inn Makes it Worth the Drive

By Mike Ference

Carriage Inn Restaurant and Catering has come a long way since its colorful past as a 1930s speakeasy known as the Bucket of Blood.  “I remember reading one of the historical updates in the Daily News several years ago that recalled a raid on the Bucket of Blood by Pennsylvania State Police,” says present owner David Walls.  “But it should also be noted that Benny Goodman jammed here one night after a nightclub appearance in Pittsburgh, and according to local history buffs, some of the beams that support the Carriage Inn Restaurant came from the original Boston Bridge,” he adds.

But the Carriage Inn’s rich history has little to do with the eatery’s current success.  “I’ve owned the restaurant for twenty years,” says Walls, “and much of the success is due to manager Judy Gibala.  She’s been working at the Carriage Inn since we opened, and for the past ten years has been managing the operation — I couldn’t ask for a better person, or find one more knowledgeable of the food service industry.”

Of course, Walls brings a lot to the table as well.  “I helped my father manage the American Legion in Port Vue, working as a bartender during my college days,” he says, noting that the job helped to pay for tuition. While serving in the U.S. Army in Germany, Walls had a side job as the night manager of the local N.C.O. Club.  “It was a full bar, dining room, and we had entertainment,” he recalls. “It was just like managing a nightclub.”  After his discharge, Walls managed a club for the Mon Yough Police Association before taking over the Carriage Inn.

What drives the business at the Carriage Inn?  Simple — good prices for good, family-style meals.  “For very little money, you’ll fill your belly with good food and have a few libations as well,” Walls proudly points out.  According to him, good food, fair prices, excellent service and consistent overall quality are the foundation of the Carriage Inn’s success — and word of mouth does the rest.  “We try to emulate the chain restaurants in the sense of providing a consistent product, never changing the quality,” he says.  “We never cut corners.  And we let our reputation speak for itself.”

Like many neighborhood restaurants, the Carriage Inn attracts its share of devoted regulars. “We have people who eat here several times a week.  A local minister eats here five or six days a week, two times a day,” Walls proclaims.

On the other hand, while the Carriage Inn has a nice location, on Lovedale Road in Elizabeth Township, it’s not on a heavily traveled road — so for many customers it’s essentially a destination restaurant, one they’ll drive out of their way to enjoy.  Walls and Gibala both credit the menu with attracting the crowds.  “We cover all the basics.  Prime rib, surf and turf, crab legs, hamburgers, pizza, jumbo wings, fish sandwich and fish dinner, and a good selection of salads and pasta dishes,” says Gibala.

And the Carriage Inn serves plenty of hungry customers daily.  “We added an additional dining room about seven years ago,” Gibala explains.  “It seats 60 and is great for showers, rehearsal dinners, just about any type of get-together.  The bar area and main dining room seat another 100 people,” she says.

About six years ago the catering side of the business was established. “We partner with a number of banquet halls and provide a full line of catering,” says Gibala.  “Sometimes we just do the catering and the client selects the venue.  We do a lot of catering outdoors — places like Round Hill Park and Cedar Creek Park, or we’ll do a barbecue-style picnic at a company facility,” she adds.  Likewise, graduation or holiday parties can be handled on or off site.

During her twenty years as manager of the Carriage Inn, Gibala has seen her share of changes and handled them all quite well.  So well, in fact, that owner Walls feels very comfortable “retiring from his day job.”  That has Gibala looking forward to another change: “I finally get a full-time assistant,” she says, laughing.