Audra Knisely founded the Corner Cafe and Grill in June 2015. Since then, the restaurant, located at 105 S. Main St. in Pleasant Gap, has become a small-town gem.
“I always wanted my own business,” Knisely said. “I had a lot of classic family recipes, and people were always asking about certain pies and roasts — stuff you can’t really get in restaurants around here anymore.”
The restaurant features traditional American-style fare with a Pennsylvania Dutch influence. Homemade pies prevail upon the senses, while roasts and mashed potatoes come hot and hearty. Even if you’re familiar with the cuisine, reacquaint yourself with the rivel (or “rivvel” if you want to get old-fashioned).
But the eatery is more than its heritage, which dates back to 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century German immigrants who came to Pennsylvania seeking political and religious freedom. Yes, there’s shoofly pie, but there are salads and paninis, too.
“I thought a great idea would be a restaurant that served classic Pennsylvania Dutch-style foods,” Knisely said. “When I came across the opportunity, I decided to do that style of food for specials, but on the other end of it, I do more modern foods.”
According to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, many German immigrants left following the destruction of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). As with other diasporas, the cuisine and culture has lived on, adding to the state’s and the nation’s as a whole.
Food is more than the sum of its flavorful parts. Like the people who make it, it evolves with time, while remaining redolent of a shared history. A label doesn’t do it justice. You just have to try it for yourself.
Kind of like Knisely when she became a first-time restaurant owner.
“It’s kind of nice to do my own thing and try new things,” she said. “But it can be kind of scary at times, just with the unknown and taking the risk.”
A mix of traditional and modern, Knisely’s restaurant is a humble reification of bridging past with future. It’s a tiny yet tasty slice of the American pie.
“My family is all from around here,” Knisely said. “It’s where I like to be.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: We’re trying to build more of a breakfast crowd. We serve a basic breakfast as well as quiche and frittatas. Every Saturday we have an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet from 9 to 11:30 a.m.
We plan to open a second location at The Barn at Lemont (201 Elmwood St. in College Township). We’re going to have grab-and-go stuff, pre-packaged food that people can stop and get like sandwiches, pot pie, soups, that kind of thing. Then we will do catering events there as well. We’re partnering with Hungry Run Wine and Spirits, KingView Mead, Organic Garden Center and more. They (The Barn at Lemont) are hoping to be open by March 1. We’re hoping to start having food in there as of mid-March.
Q: What did you do before becoming a restaurant owner?
A: I actually worked for the State College Borough Water Authority prior to doing this. I created a youth conservation program partnering with the State College Spikes. I went around to schools doing conservation assemblies with Ike the Spike. I also did delinquent collections, finances, public relations. I did a lot of social media and newsletters in my previous job, but other than that there’s not really any association with what I do now. It’s definitely different.
Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A: I worked at Brothers Pizza on the Benner Pike, and then my next job I was a bartender at Michael’s Triangle Tavern in Zion, my hometown.
Q: What did those early experiences teach you?
A: That a restaurant is a lot of work (laughs).
Q: In the dessert department, what are some specialties of yours?
A: My top is coconut cream pie; we have the meringue on top. We do apple dumplings, apple pies, shoofly pies. We do lemon meringues and fruit pies.
Q: Now I’m hungry.
The Corner Cafe and Grill is open 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday.