The first time I ate at Coombs Tavern a few months ago, it reminded me of my parents' restaurant in Scranton where I grew up. The menu, atmosphere and décor, and clientele all struck a chord.
I decided to go back for this column after noticing the restaurant's unusually low prices for tasty well-rounded meals. This time, I had lunch on a rainy Tuesday. I tend to eat later in the afternoon, so I just missed the crowd. I scanned a dry-erase board with the afternoon's specials and decided on a gyro and a cup of bean and vegetable soup.
A server greeted me immediately and promptly brought out my soup after I ordered. It had a good consistency of white beans, potatoes and beef, and warmed me up on an abnormally chilly day. The gyro soon followed and was served with lettuce, tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce, and chips and a pickle. I can't recall ever eating lamb, but I enjoyed the flavor and tenderness of the meat. The meal tasted fresh, homemade and carefully prepared.
Co-owner Teresa Marquette said that's something the restaurant prides itself on. She and her husband, Ronald, have owned Coombs for 15 years, but the restaurant has had multiple owners. Teresa manages the front of the house, and her husband takes care of the kitchen. Their three children - Carly, 22; Trey, 21; and Bryn, 10 - work there, too.
She said Ronald reads restaurant magazines to come up with new ideas and works hard to maintain such low prices. My meal with a drink cost $5.50. The restaurant offers lunch and dinner specials every day, and the standard menu has some of the lowest prices I've seen in the county.
Having grown up in the restaurant industry, I know that it's hard to maintain such low prices while covering operating costs and keeping up with competition. I've watched my dad balance it for years.
Teresa said Ronald is smart when it comes to numbers and that he shops around for the best deals.
"It's just the way he does business," she said. "I really admire him for his business ethics."
However, the food and service at Coombs are so much more than one might expect for the price.
The restaurant bustled during my first trip there, which was a Monday - taco and wing night. The setting is casual and cozy, with a dimly lit bar and dining room. Servers are attentive even when it's packed. I could tell that many of the customers are regulars by the way they greeted my unfamiliar face.
"Everybody knows everybody," Teresa said. "If you don't, you'll know them by the time you leave."
I wasn't surprised when Teresa said she and Ronald want to make the restaurant an extension of who they are and really welcome their customers. I felt that the second I walked through the door.
There's something special about a family-owned business. The work that goes into it is personal, so any success or failure means more. Customers appreciate the drive and dedication of the business, and almost adopt it as their own. It's more than just a place to work or eat. It's sort of like a home.
Cheap Eats profiles local restaurants with meals for less than $10. Suggestions are welcome. Reach Leigh Zaleski at 771-2101, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @YDRCheapEats.
If you go
LOCATION: Coombs Tavern, 475 Pennsylvania Ave. in York
LEIGH'S PICK: Lunch special 3, a gyro with bean and beef soup and a diet soda ($5.50)
PARKING: Mostly street
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, bar is open until midnight
PRICE RANGE: 75 cents to $24.95
ACCEPTS: Cash, Visa, Mastercard
KID'S MENU: Yes