The Rediscover State College Podcast

Opening a Restaurant and Music Venue in the State College Area

Season 1 / Episode 4

Liz Grove’s cool job in State College: owning and running Pine Grove Hall, an upscale restaurant, bar, and music venue.

Liz Grove grew up in State College, went to Penn State, then moved to New York City for 20 years. She came back to the area to help her dad with his business. The decision came once again as to whether she should move to a big city or stay in State College. The lack of music venues in the area is both what made her almost leave, and ultimately drove her to stay and start her own.

In this episode, Liz talks about how she came upon the opportunity to purchase and open what is now Pine Grove Hall. She also talks about how she got connected to Pine Grove Hall’s chef, how they persevered through the pandemic, and the growing music and restaurant scene in the State College area.

Make sure you stick around through the end of the episode – we’ll enter our segment called “How to Do the Thing,” where Liz will give you three actionable steps you can take towards opening a restaurant and music venue in the State College area.

Brad Groznik: [00:00:00] This is the Rediscover State College Podcast. On this show, we talk to locals about how they were able to find their happy place in Happy Valley. I’m your host, Brad Gronik. With us today, we have Liz Grove. Liz is the owner of Pine Grove Hall, an upscale casual restaurant and bar with an emphasis on locally sourced food craft cocktails, and live music that opened in June, 2020.

We will talk to Liz about how she was able to open a restaurant music venue and ultimately win over the local community. Liz, thank you so much for chatting with me.

Liz Grove: Sure. This is fun.

Brad Groznik: So I, I gotta admit, like, what, what really had me reach out to you was a, a post on Facebook that I saw. I think you reposted it.

Uh, about a one month ago and about eight years ago, you had asked your Facebook friends, should I move to Nashville? I’ll reveal what you decided not to do that, but I’d love to talk [00:01:00] to you about like what spurred that initial kind of post and what happened in the, in the last, uh, seven or eight years that, that led to where we are now.

Liz Grove:

Okay. Do you have a lot of time? No, but there’s a lot of stories behind this. So I, I am from here, born and raised, went to Penn State and then moved to New York City for 20 years. And so, and then I came back and when I came back I was helping my dad with his business. And then he passed away. And I thought, well, am I gonna stay here again?

Because I had that chance to get out, right? Go somewhere else, go to the big city. And I came back here and, and I realized I really liked it. I was raising my kids. I have three kids. Um, and then they were out of the house. Okay, now what do we do? Right? They’re out of the house. Do I wanna stay in State college?

I wanna do my music. I’m also a musician. And there was like, there was a lack of venue here is what I figured out. I was like, hmm, there’s so much talent. I really like to be here, except it’s a little boring. There’s [00:02:00] not enough. You know, we need another music venue. And my daughter had just moved to Nashville or was going to move to Nashville.

She’s a singer too, and she had just graduated Penn State. So I think part of it was like, I was intrigued because she was down there. I took a trip down there and I was like, Hmm. You know, maybe we should go down there because there’s music and it’s a bigger city. So that’s where that came from.

Brad Groznik: That’s a fascinating story.

You chose not to, so why? Why did you end up choosing not to and what led to you deciding to open up your own music venue, Pinegrove Hall, in 2020?

Liz Grove: Hmm. Well, opportunity, I guess. I knew that, you know, first of all, we know if anybody, anybody growing up here, it, it’s, it’s easy to live here. It’s easy to get around.

It’s less expensive. You go to a big city, it seems like there’s a lot more opportunity. You make more money. But really the cost of living, I. And kind of the craziness that comes along with that, that [00:03:00] can really stop you from, you know, doing a new business. So I knew that, I just thought we could do it here.

I thought, is there something that can become available that we could actually open as a music venue? And so the person who owned it was called the Old Oak Tavern. I had kind of had my eye, you know, everybody kind of knew that it would be a great place to have live music. It has a stage and it had a liquor license.

Her name was Kathy Hur. And I would just, I would contact her once a year and say, you know, are you thinking about selling? Because she wasn’t, her kids were older and she wasn’t so interested in, in keeping it going, no, I’m not really interested. I’m not ready yet. And then finally one day she said, yeah, I, I’m ready to sell.

And I knew, so that’s really the, the opportunity and the physical, the building and the liquor license kind of presented itself. And I’m like, uh, I have to put my money where my mouth is. Right. We need a new venue. I guess I’m the one that’s gonna have to do it.

Brad Groznik: Yeah. And I remember you. So I moved back to State College in, in 2015.

Mm-hmm. From [00:04:00] New York City also. Oh. Um, and we would always drive past Oak Point Tavern on our way to Roth Rock. ’cause you know, you, you turn, you, it’s right at that corner where you go up to Jo Hayes Vista and over to Rothrock. It’s such a Right. And, and we, and my wife and I would always look at that place.

What’s going on with that place Like that would be such a great, great place. Mm-hmm. And, you know, pine Grove Hall also seems like such a great place for, for a music venue too, because that little town seems to be kind of a little bit up and coming.

Liz Grove: Yes, exactly. The naked egg, you know, they kind of proved that people would come out here, you know, out here, right.

We’re like eight minutes away from State College. But yeah, they were jam packed every morning for brunch and, and breakfast and the development. The new apartments are coming out this way. You can kind of see as it. You know, pressing out this way. So it’s a great little town. I’m all in on Pine Grove Mills now, and I live here now.

I even moved here.

Brad Groznik: And Liz Grove, you, you’re no relation to Pine Grove, is that true?

Liz Grove: No, no relation. People were telling me I [00:05:00] should call it The Grove. I said, no, no, no, that’s too much.

Brad Groznik: Yeah, it just feels like. Almost like the stars are aligned, like for you to open a, uh, a music venue in Pine Grove Mills.

Liz Grove: Yes. There is so much synchronicity about people that came out to help about people that, um, I don’t know, just our staff. Um, the story of how I got our chef is a, is a fun one. I was talking to my cousin. And again, this is another great reason about being local and like being small town or all these little connections.

I said to my cousin, I said, Hey, I’m opening a restaurant, but I need a chef. I’ve never, that’s not my forte, right? I can do the music part, but I need someone to help with the food. And she said, well, my son’s roommate is a chef. Oh really? Okay, well have him send me a resume. And I got his resume the next day.

And it was amazing. It was one of those Tory Tory Glos, he grew up in Penns Valley. Went to culinary school in New England. Went out to San Francisco, kind of, and came back and, and worked here at [00:06:00] another place for a while, and then he was getting to Le ready to leave again. Also, kind of for that same reason, he wanted to open his own restaurant.

He wasn’t finding kind of the, the challenging places around here because he wanted to do his own thing. He wanted to use local ingredients, et cetera. And so he sent me his resume. Two months before he was let ready to leave and go somewhere else. And I said, Hey, come and see what we’re doing. You can have total autonomy.

You can have your whole, your creative outlet. Just like a musician. Right. Except in the, on the food side of things. And we just, we hit it off and he staged. So we got, we kept someone here right in State College that was going to leave because of this new creative endeavor that’s,

Brad Groznik: Wasn’t necessarily to open this kind of upscale dining experience, experimental kind of thing that you guys are, are starting to be known for.

Liz Grove: Correct. It was going because I didn’t know that side I wanted to have, I knew I didn’t wanna have bar food. [00:07:00] I wanted to have a really quality music venue. ’cause being musicians, my partner and I, Steve, he’s an engineer.

He worked in the audio industry side of things, and I worked in the music industry side of things in New York, and also being musicians. So we knew we wanted to elevate the music experience. We knew we could do that, and we needed that around here, but not the food that Tori just kind of dropped, you know, dropped from the ether.

Brad Groznik: Wow. And, and so again, going back to 2015, I think one of the complaints we would hear often in the community is that there weren’t a lot of, uh, nice sit down restaurants. But since then, you know, there’s been a, there’s been several really nice restaurants opening up. Just interesting how, how all that kind.

Mm-hmm. You know, prior to this, you, you mentioned, um, you know, you spent 20 years in, in New York and then you moved and helped your father’s business. Uh, like was any of that in the restaurant industry or, you know, did you ever see yourself opening a, a restaurant and music venue other than maybe just a dream [00:08:00] of, of a music venue?

Liz Grove: Not really. Um, but, but I look back, so my dad, my both my mom and my dad were entrepreneurs, except they didn’t use that word back then. Right. But my dad was a contractor, you know, he was a World War II vet. He was born in Bellon, small town. And he came back and he was one of those that, you know, worked his way up, built houses, and just kind of figured it out on his own.

And then he ended up building, uh, student apartments in the sixties, late sixties, early seventies. When a lot of the locals, Penn State had too many students and so they reached out to the local builders and said, Hey, we need more apartments. So he did that, um, and just ended up owning and operating his, the apartments.

So when I came back, it was to help with that. So I got my real estate license. That was all new, but then I also automated the office and my background. Well, I was a classical piano major. That’s also over in left field. So, but I thought I like business. And my mom, my mom had her own [00:09:00] business also after six kids.

She, she started the glider port out in Julianne. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. Yeah. The world famous glider port. Yes. That’s my mom. Wow. Yep. And she had like a whole second career after having her kids. She and my stepdad, they were in their late thirties I guess, and they decided to do that venture.

So this idea, I think of, you know, being able to go out and do things and it’s just a set of skills. And it turns out, if I would’ve known back then, But back then I was, my skillset was more computers and organizing and finance and kind of like that general contractor thing, that big picture and operations.

I, I worked for a CD distributor in New York for, for 13 years actually, and we had 10 million CDs in our warehouse, so I got really good at, at, and I was there at the very beginning. So I, I think the restaurant business is, is like any other business in the sense. Of the most basic things, marketing and sales and organization, [00:10:00] people, staff, right.

And then the whole creative bent just came to me through my music and my interest in history. So it’s a little bit of everything that I love, right? And it just came together. And I’m just at this point in life where it, it fits a little bit of everything that I’ve had experience, you know, over the last 30, 40 years.

Brad Groznik: I, I would say that you’ve made a splash since opening during the pandemic. You know, I don’t wanna skip over that part. Um, so what was it like, you know, you said you Pine Grove Hall was set to open in June of 2020. Like, were you ever just like, you know what, the stars are not aligning on this thing?

Or was it, you know, we’re all in, we gotta just figure our way through this kind of thing. What was it like, take me back to that, that opening month.

Liz Grove: Okay. Having great people, hiring people, I. That are really good at what they do, like Tori, our chef, and our bartenders and you know, and our staff and letting them, so my [00:11:00] job is to let them do what they do best.

Right. And I’m just kind of like the conductor.

Brad Groznik: Yeah. I would imagine having gone through that, you know, and being on the other side of it, there you have just such a, a huge bond with your employees. Um, it’s almost like a boot camp or it’s almost, you know,

Liz Grove: Something like that. It was, we are too far in, we have to keep going.

And, and I had to be really positive because the, like, the brain, the brain, the decision making was really a lot. I mean, everybody knows it has a, had a business back then, especially small businesses, let alone a startup. The decision making was constant. Like in one, I remember one particular day in the morning, I had one business plan and then I think it was at one o’clock, the governor said, we’re gonna change the rules and you have to do this.

And my brain was like, ah, we have to readjust. We can do that. And then at nighttime I had like something else happened and some, I was in this constant state of [00:12:00] reinventing how we’re gonna do the, literally the next week, the next two weeks, how are we gonna pay people? There’s no tips. We only can do takeout.

How do we. All of like, yeah, it was exhausting, but it also, I think that’s the creativity, right? Like if your brain can constantly, it’s trouble, trouble problem solving, figuring it out and having the staff kind of come along with you, like the negativity, I would say, Hmm, no, negativity can’t overload, right?

We must be positive and figure it’s turning back.

Brad Groznik: Now that hopefully, you know, the, the pandemic is, is behind us. What, what, what, what’s your dream with Pine Grove Hall and what, what do you hope to be if you know, in here in five, 10 years?

Liz Grove: That’s a good question. There’s a lot of revitalization in our little, our small communities, Lamont burg, and now Pine Grove Mills I think is kind of in that, a lot of attention being [00:13:00] paid to agriculture and to, you know, locally source, which we’re obviously doing.

And we’re really poised to take advantage of all that. Also with music, I would like to see State College become much more of a music, you know, music Mecca. We’ve never had any band really break out of here, like original band. And it’s strange to me. There’s so much creativity, there’s so many young people.

Right? So I would love, and I already sensed that happening actually, for it to be kind of a a for musicians and. Chill out a little bit. We had a band that came from Pittsburgh, actually. They came three months ago and they were on tour and we were their last stop and they, and they had never been here before and they got out of their cars and went over on the grass and laid down and looked up at the sky.

Now they had been touring out west and all the in big cities and all the craziness, and they just laid on the grass and looked up at the [00:14:00] blue sky and said This. This is just the best. And we fed them and they loved it. And I feel like they decompressed and I, you know, as musicians and being in a creative field, we need that calmness.

We need that to kind of reinvigorate. So I hope that we can get musicians to come here and appreciate being in the small town. And we’re getting more touring bands. So right now we’re doing one touring band, a. Last night we had House of Hamel, this really cool, sophisticated Irish indie folk. They’re out of Allentown actually.

And they were on their way out west on a small tour and oh my heaven, it was so much fun last night. They were so good. Um, and they’re gonna tell their friends and they’re gonna come back through, you know, as they head out towards Pittsburgh, or if you’re coming back the other way. We’re halfway between New York.

And Baltimore and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. So we’re poised to be that, that place. [00:15:00] Yeah,

Brad Groznik: I’ve heard that from, from bands that play at Elk Creek Cafe too, as if they’re, they’re, you know, just on the other side of, of town from you guys, kind of just in this small town of Mulheim and people come through like, oh wow, there’s such great community.

And like people really love music here. And to have another venue like Pine Grove Hall and then, you know, the state theater and a number of other, um, places. To your point, like it, it feels like there’s a burgeoning scene, or at least like the infrastructure is there for musicians to really take, take advantage of this.

So I don’t want to skip over your cocktails. Your cocktails are, are starting to get a name for yourself, name for themselves also. Uh, and I’m sensing a theme. Very creative. Can you tell me a little bit about what you guys, uh, did and how you’re approaching that? Maybe, maybe your favorite.

Liz Grove: Um, I don’t know if I have a favorite, so is our bartender.

A lot of people know him from Fuji. He, uh, [00:16:00] he’s like a musician. And that’s another really interesting thing. I was never in the restaurant business, and yet now I see being, I mean, I played music. So actually ironically, you know, when I was at Penn State, I was getting my degree, but I was playing in a rock band every weekend.

So I was in the restaurant business, right? It’s looking back like, hmm, I was just on the stage. But now that I’m in it, I see the kitchen and I see the bar staff. Obviously the sound guys, et cetera. Everybody, it’s, it’s like, it’s showtime. It feels like that. And Gerrick is just really creative and he is passionate about it.

That’s the other thing. You have to really love what you do. If you love what you do, you know you wanna do it to the highest level. And he, he just comes up with ingredients. He writes our menu. He, even the words he uses to describe the drinks, right? If our menu is online so everybody can see it. I, I don’t know how he does it.

It’s just a talent and he, he loves it and it’s about flavors, just like the food. It’s [00:17:00] about really high quality, which everything is. Also, I kind of wanted to raise the bar with music. Well, he’s raising the bar with cocktails, and Tory is raising the bar with the food, right? Because they love it and I give him total autonomy.

I can take no credit for that and I can’t explain how he does it In the cities, you have servers that are professional servers. You have right bar bartenders and I, wouldn’t it be great if we could create that here as opposed to the servers that are students and they come and go and you know that transient crowd, not just in restaurants, but in all aspects.

What if. A place, place and have it where people are a professional, they come to the restaurant, it would be jobs, it would be a professional position. Right. I would love to do that. That elevates the whole service side to it. Right. I love it.

Brad Groznik: I love the vision. I’m curious, so if listeners want to come visit and, and, and see it, what would you recommend?

What’s the [00:18:00] ideal way to, you know, visit Pine Grove Hall?

Liz Grove: Our tagline is eat, drink, listen. Because we couldn’t decide what we wanted to be and I thought, well, everything is equal. I want great food. You know, I want great cocktails, I want great music. And as it’s turned out, I would say it’s kind of evenly split in terms of how, why people come here.

Some people come for the food, they, they want that experience. Other people are big music fans, um, or cocktails. But once they’re here, then they kind of see, so they have to choose which of those they want to focus on. Right. And if it’s music, we have two or three shows a week. So look at our website or and see what’s happening and just pick a night.

We mostly do reservation. We’re like 90% reservation, which is great actually. And come experience that. And then you get sucked into the rest of it and they, then they get to see the space and go, Hmm, where are we? We’re not in State College because it doesn’t look like State College. And then the next time maybe they come back for [00:19:00] food and, and you know, it’s, it’s like half and half music folks, food folks, but then they see the community and they, the idea of other people that are similar and then they come back for something, you know, something different.

We’re having music retrospectives where it’s a little bit like a lecture discussion upstairs. So we’re getting great feedback on that and kind of drawing people in for different reasons. Right. Community. Boy, we need that now, don’t we? We need a place to commune together. Yeah.

Brad Groznik: I honestly, I’m, I’m so grateful this community has people like you doing things, doing things like this.

I agree. Um, places like Pine Grove Hall are, are, are what makes State College and in the area so special, you know, just to come full circle from the beginning, like, I’m glad you stayed here and invested in the community and didn’t, you know, So thank you.

Liz Grove: Well, thank you and thank you president.

She said, [00:20:00] thank you for having this. Because they, I think they lived in Chicago and they wanted great food and they were a little nervous about coming here, and she said it really helped, you know, it helped them kind of say, oh, there is more here than, than burgers and bars, et cetera, and students, so that’s what we want.

So that made me feel like, yes, that’s kind of what we’re doing. We’re trying to. Let people know that we’re, we’re a small town, but you know, we have some sophisticated things happening here.

Brad Groznik: Now we’re gonna enter our segment called How to Do the Thing where we ask you to briefly lay out for us three actual steps on how to do the thing, or at least how to get started.

The thing in this case is opening a restaurant and music venue in the state college area. What would you say are three actual steps our listeners could take toward achieving that goal?

Liz Grove: That’s a good question. So my first thought is, To find at least one other person that has a set of skills that compliments what you already do, something that would add value to your endeavor, because it’s really hard and it takes a [00:21:00] lot of time, and I think you can’t do it on your own.

So that would be the very first thing. Um, the second thing would be to do, do research. Find something that’s unique. You know, like we wanted to focus on live music. We wanted something different that. Solve a problem, fill an unmet need. The other step is clear your schedule for the foreseeable future, I would say for for the next two years or so.

And obviously having the financial, you know, wherewithal to get started, but also the time there is never enough time. So clear your schedule and get ready to kind of do this 24 7.

Brad Groznik: again, super appreciative of, of you doing that for, for our community, and thank you for your time.

Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Rediscover State College Podcast. If you like what you [00:22:00] heard and want to hear more, Please subscribe to the Rediscover State College Podcast. Wherever you listen to podcasts. Episodes will be released every month. If you want to connect with Liz about anything we just talked about or you just have some thoughts about opening a restaurant and music venue, email us at