STATE COLLEGE — Greg Mussi is bringing some Southern comfort to State College.
Mussi’s restaurant, The Autoport, 1405 S. Atherton St., turns into Clem’s Roadside Bar and Grill early next week.
Mussi has teamed with Clem Pantalone, the founder of the first Clem’s BBQ on Route 22 in Blairsville in 1994. Pantalone said he would not have a stake in the new restaurant; he would just be the “grill guy.”
“It’s a role I like to do,” Pantalone said. “I like to hang out, (talk) with customers and spend time on the grill.”
Pantalone is originally from Greensburg and now resides at The Autoport motel full-time.
There is a Clem’s BBQ in Blairsville and Jersey Shore, and a catering business — none of which Pantalone is associated with.
Pantalone said the Clem’s that is taking over The Autoport site will be a full-service restaurant that incorporates his business model with Mussi’s.
“I’ve been out of the restaurant business for a little while,” Pantalone said. “I took a break the last year, but got this opportunity with a great situation and a great guy that combines Clem’s mission with Greg’s.”
The two missions will merge Pantalone’s love of barbecue and Mussi’s full-service approach, Pantalone said.
“This is a new and unique situation,” Pantalone said. “It’s a great collaboration. I’ve always been on the other side of things as a restaurant owner and operator. The point is, is that this business entity is not associated with any other Clem’s out there. It’s completely separate.”
The idea was inspired by Mussi’s travels around the Mississippi Delta and his love of Southern food.
There will be an official kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday, Mussi said.
About two months ago, Mussi and his wife, Lynda, decided to change things up at the longtime State College eatery.
The couple, along with Katy Punt, purchased The Autoport in 2007.
“We were struggling with identity,” Mussi said. “The name ‘Autoport’ wasn’t lending itself to the food aspect of things, but more so for the motel.”
The Autoport motel will continue to operate under the same name, Mussi said.
“We had discussed this change that also came with a name change for (the restaurant),” Mussi said. “We were trying to come up with something people would recognize that would be five letters or less.”
Then a friend suggested that Mussi contact Pantalone.
The restaurant is still open as The Autoport, but is undergoing renovations.
Mussi said he is working on making the facility more “rustic,” with barn siding and corrugated metal.
“It’s going to be a place a little less formal, where people can feel comfortable in jeans,” Mussi said.
The meats, Mussi said, will be cooked on an outdoor wood-fire grill and accompanied by all-homemade recipes.
The Autoport was Pennsylvania’s first motel, Mussi said.
The motel’s website, www.theautoport.com, tells of State College businessman Marion B. Meyer encountering in 1936 a Florida car-repair station that also included a restaurant and lodging. The concept was called a “motel,” short for “motor hotel.”
Meyer brought the idea home and developed a place for travelers to spend the night, have their vehicles serviced and enjoy a meal before heading out of town. He called the business The Autoport.
Through the years, The Autoport was converted from a service garage to a coffee shop to a modern motel.
In 2006, the Meyer family put the business up for sale.
Mussi said he hopes to fill an outdoor stage with local musicians for live music that would include blues, jazz and country genres.
Of his collaboration with Pantalone, Mussi said, “He’s a master of what he does and I love what I do.”
Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.