Jacquie Ferentinos has deep roots in the Harrisburg restaurant business. So deep, in fact, that she says it runs in her blood.
It started when her grandparents opened the Keystone Restaurant on N. 3rd Street, a six-decade-old diner now run by her father. Jacquie remembers sleeping on the bench and taking baths in the three-compartment sink.
“My grandparents have been a huge inspiration for hard work,” Ferentinos said. “I mean they’re in their 80s and still there every day.”
Her love for serving food continued when she and her husband Steve opened Brick City Bar & Grille on N. 2nd Street, which they operated for three years. More recently, they owned a restaurant in Baltimore.
But Ferentinos just can’t stay away from the business. This time, her passion has extended to Valley Bistro, a casual eatery focused on fresh ingredients, located just outside of Enola.
This & That
Ferentinos completely re-did the space, which some may remember as the original location of Al’s of Hampden. She created a modern and urban atmosphere that feels like a restaurant you’d find in a bigger city.
Valley Bistro opens at 7 a.m. each day, serving breakfast and lunch. It’s a quick-service concept similar to Panera, and the menu caters to everyone from business people working nearby to families with little kids who want a sugar rush for breakfast with the Fruity Pebbles French toast.
For her part, Ferentinos loves the cannoli-stuffed French toast, the authentic gyros and all of the gluten-free options, including the cauliflower pizza.
The gyros are shaved off the cone and stuffed with French fries, and the machine is featured in the window so people can see the process. In fact, Valley Bistro is so focused on fresh ingredients that there’s no microwave or freezer.
Ferentinos said the restaurant offers catering and take-out, as well. Plus, the space is available to rent out for things such as birthday parties or work events after 2 p.m.
The early closing time is just one way that Valley Bistro caters to family, an intentional choice for Jacquie and Steve, who have three children.
Their previous restaurant ventures were tough because of the late nights, she said. But as their kids grow up, they wanted back in the business. Jacquie even helped out at the Keystone on weekends because she missed the industry so much.
“My biggest concern was the kids and how they would feel,” she said about starting a new restaurant.
With her youngest son heading to pre-school and a whole family on her side, she decided to take the leap. She said her kids were both patient and excited. While renovating the building, they would come in at night and answer the phones.
“Hi, thanks for calling Valley Bistro,” they’d chime.
The restaurant closes after lunch so the Ferentinos family can go home to their kids. There are even items on the menu named after their children, including “Stella’s Grilled Romaine Chicken Caesar Salad,” the “Maximus Burger” and “Gianna’s This & That.”
As Ferentinos goes back to work, she wants her children to learn the value of working hard to realize their dreams, as she did.
“I hope that they go to school, and they become doctors and lawyers,” she said. “But whatever it is, they will learn their roots from here, from us,” she said.
Valley Bistro also draws on aspects of Brick City. Ferentinos said Brick City regulars loved the food, especially the burgers, so she brought much of that menu over to the new space.
She even faced some of the same pushback that she felt when opening Brick City. Valley Bistro sits in the same place where Al’s of Hampden was for over a decade, followed by Philly Steak & Shake.
People told her not to open the restaurant because of the turn into the building and because of the layout. But Ferentinos saw what it could be.
It was much the same at Brick City, she said. The previous two places in that location had failed, and people claimed it was a bad spot with no parking. Still, she and her husband gambled and succeeded.
“We did it financially on our own, and I remember on the opening night, we were so busy, and we just kind of looked at each other like, ‘Wow, we did this,’” she said.
Although Brick City closed in 2013, selling the space to Ted’s Bar and Grill, Ferentinos kept the Facebook page because it’s “kind of like a piece of her.”
“I always had the hope that I would be able to post on there again like, ‘Hey we’re opening a new place,’” she said. “And I did.”
Ferentinos has come a long way from the high school girl who couldn’t go to a football game because she was working at the Keystone. While some people dread the restaurant business, she loves getting to serve great food to great customers.
She thinks that good times around the table create memories that last a lifetime and, at the end of the day, she relishes interacting with customers and hearing how much they enjoyed the food.
“If you have good food then it’s a good party,” she said.
Valley Bistro is located at 4520 Valley Rd., Enola. For more information, call 717-695-7673 or visit www.valleybistroenola.com or the Facebook page.