Long before big-box stores and multiplex movie theaters, chain coffee shops and restaurant franchises, Center Ridge Road at the border of Rocky River and Fairview Park boasted active farmland and the unique excitement of a drivein movie. In 1947, brothers-in-law Tony Riegelsberger and Carl Schneid saw an opportunity to change this, parlaying a parcel of land for sale into the establishment of The Rustic Restaurant, a local landmark as popular now as the day it opened.
Built as a log cabin, The Rustic began carhop and indoor service with a simple menu of burgers, fries, and barbecue sandwiches. Utilizing local produce and dairy products before it was trendy, the restaurant collaborated with an area butcher who provided meat according to the owners’ precise standards for taste and consistency, which they then ground in-house. While today’s menu includes additions such as wraps and charbroiled salmon, every shipment from Blue Ribbon Meats in Cleveland is still tested according to the same criteria.
After inheriting the business from their fathers, Jerry and Jack Riegelsberger, cousins Kurt and Gary Riegelsberger are now the third generation to oversee the restaurant’s daily operations. Hot mugs of coffee are served alongside egg specialties and pancakes that are golden brown and crispy on the edges. As the day progresses, patrons enjoy Riegelsberger family recipes, such as beef stroganoff and chicken paprikash, along with homemade salad dressings and soups prepared from house-made stock.
The Rustic has developed and changed with the times, but it has never strayed from a commitment to its customers and to the values of earlier days. The carhop service may be gone and the menu updated, but the heart of the establishment beats steadily.
Kurt recalls helping his father grind meat for the original steak burgers. Gary moves back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, monitoring the flow of service while joking with customers. His sister, Lorrie Mullin, refills coffee cups and shares memories of herself at 8 years old, cleaning the restaurant’s parking lot on early Saturday mornings. Sisters Karen and Becky Griffin serve customers each day, as they have for the past three decades, often knowing how a patron takes his coffee or prefers her eggs without having to ask.
“There is family in the front and back of the house,” Lorrie says. “People come in to see them. The customers are family. They came in as children and are now bringing their children.”
Even chef Neil Holdsworth first visited The Rustic in his youth, following his three older brothers to work first as a dishwasher 35 years ago. After attending culinary school, he returned to The Rustic. “It’s like home,” Neil says. “We know the customers’ names and what they like to eat. The owners are good people working right there next to us.”
The commitment of The Rustic’s owners and staff is mirrored by the loyalty of its customers. Husband and wife Kit and Jack Furlong have patronized the eatery for decades, Jack visiting first as a St. Ignatius student in the late 1940s and now visiting with Kit several times each week. When the restaurant reopened after a fire a decade ago, customers lined up, eager to return to their favorite haunt. Seeing the crush of people waiting for service, Kit jumped in to help at the hostess station—a gesture that resulted in nine years of employment. “It’s truly a home away from home for so many,” Kit says. The owners and their amazing staff create an atmosphere of warmth, family, and friendship. Everyone knows your name, and they make you feel like part of their Rustic family.”
Customer Nonni Casino grew up in a restaurant family and began working at The Rustic two mornings each week after moving to Cleveland. “The people and the servers . . . they’re my family,” Nonni says.
Now 84 years old, Rustic veteran Furlong says it best: “Everyone who works here is kind and gentle. It’s a very friendly place to be a customer.”