Greg and LuAnn Yearick began their culinary careers after years of catering to their friends’ and family’s hunger for top-notch backyard barbecue.
“Everyone was always telling my husband he should open a restaurant ... but then he found an old shell of a trailer that he knew he could convert into a food truck, so that’s where we got started,” LuAnn Yearick said. “Of course, as we moved around with the (food truck) across Pennsylvania — we did about 12 events between May and October, mostly small festivals — every time we’d go somewhere, someone would ask, ‘so where’s your restaurant?’ ”
While Greg Yearick had been scouting potential restaurant locations for the past three years or so, his wife was more cautious to jump on board the idea. However, at one point last fall, she happened to mention the suitability of The former Whistle Stop location at 104 E. Wilson St. in Centre Hall.
“It’s close to where we live, it’s the perfect size, it’s not too large that it would be overwhelming for our first restaurant, it’s got great parking, it’s a very unique place — being an old train station — it’s got a lot of character and personality,” LuAnn Yearick said.
Fast forward several months later and Greg Yearick noticed immediately when the spot went on the market.
“(It) felt meant to be, because that was the only location that I agreed, if it became available again, we would do it,” LuAnn Yearick said.
Centre County residents are likely already familiar with the Cajun Express food truck, a favorite at local events due to its unique, high-quality Cajun-style menu. But The Express Casual Dining restaurant is more than just a physical outpost of the food truck.
Wanting to give Centre Hall something a little different and acknowledging Greg Yearick’s skills with the smoker, they decided to veer away from the food truck’s Cajun fair and go with an American menu inspired by their backyard soirees of years past.
“We do have some of the food we carried in the food truck, like our signature catfish, chicken on a stick, chicken and sausage gumbo ... but the restaurant has more Americana food as well,” LuAnn Yearick said.
Now — open for just two months — they’ve established some clear best-sellers, including the brisket, pulled pork, cheesesteak sandwiches and catfish. Other favorite specialties include The Express and The Rail, all-in-one-dish meals that’ll make your mouth water. The former includes brisket, pulled pork, baked beans, mashed potatoes and coleslaw all in one bowl, while the latter is a one-plate combination of sausage, ribs, brisket, bacon, pulled pork and mashed potatoes.
Based on the success of these items, they’re expanding the menu somewhat to include more of those combination, all-in-one-dish meals. Diners can expect loaded french fries on the menu soon, as well as some new appetizers like green bean crispers and calamari. A prime rib special is also becoming a weekly offer, with a nice cut of prime rib and two sides of your choice for $18 every Friday night.
Already looking toward the future, the Yearicks are opening an enclosed patio for additional seating and aim to open a rail car on the premises for small private events by the end of the year.
While the switch from food truck to physical restaurant has its challenges, LuAnn Yearick said the couple has been blessed in their experience.
“The first week we were open, we truly did not know what to expect. We admittedly had no idea what we were getting into. The first week, we were overwhelmed,” she said. “We’ve been blessed with people continuing to support us. We’re seeing a lot of repeat customers (and) regulars coming in. I really can’t say it was a challenge. I would say it was a thankful, overwhelming surprise.”