WheeLove: Centre Market
WheeLove spotlights business owners that have contributed to Wheeling's success and entrepreneurial spirit. This is just a glimpse at one of many businesses that contribute to Wheeling's revitalization. Business owners who are interested in being featured on a WheeLove blog should contact Alex Panas and Bekah Karelis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Bekah Karelis
Later Alligator, the restaurant that could be considered Wheeling’s most unique, is located in the Centre Market district just south of Wheeling Creek in the shopping district.
Susan Haddad did not have a restaurant in mind when she purchased the historic building located at 2145 Market Street in Centre Market. She saw it as an investment opportunity. In 2000, the talk of the Victorian Outlet Mall was still a hot topic, though the mall was planned to end at 21st Street, a block short of the building. Haddad was working for McKinley & Associates at the time and was aware of this shortcoming, but thought it was a timely investment, regardless.
When she purchased the building, Tom’s Antique Shop was located on the ground floor with three leased apartments above. The rents provided enough income to cover the building expenses. The first 3 years Susan collected the rents, paid the mortgage and looked forward to the possibility of making a couple of dollars on a resale. What happened instead was the demise of the outlet mall and literally --- a wake-up call the morning of New Year’s Eve. Tom Purdy was in up to his knees in water. A pipe on the second floor of the building had burst and the entire first floor was flooded. Tom moved his antique business a block south. Susan began her stint as a DIY restoration specialist.
Haddad decided to quit her job in order to devote her time to restoring the building. The renovation took a little more than three and a half years, the first 2 of which she worked alone. After interviewing a number contractors, each of whom suggested getting rid of the original Wheeling Tile floors and updating everything as new, Susan knew she needed to pursue other avenues for help in completingthe project. The magic happened when her neighbor and friend, Thad Podratsky, announced he had just quit his job and would be going out on his own. Susan was able to convince Thad to join her and shortly thereafter Thad’s friend, Andy Loos. The team was assembled. Salvaged materials were used throughout wherever possible. The oversized restroom doors, antique light fixtures and slate back bar countertop all came from the old Fulton School. The wood flooring in the front of the restaurant was rescued from the dumpster as Wheeling Wholesale Grocery was being renovated to the extension of Northern Community College. The antique wood file cabinet incorporated into the bar, still with its original drawer labels, was purchased at the Marsh Wheeling Stogies auction. Every door and every piece of trim inside and outside of the building was stripped to the original raw wood. This took time and throughout this period more than one idea for the building’s destiny was considered.
By early 2006, she had decided to open a restaurant. There were a number of eateries in Centre Market at that time. A beef house, fish market, deli, diner and Lebanese - all specialties. Inspired by her time spent in France, Susan decided to introduce the unique and fun eating experience of French crepes to Wheeling’s lunch crowd.
Since she opened the doors of Later Alligator, she has seen dramatic change in the Centre Market district. More people are making the buildings located in the district into residences and more storefronts are being rehabilitated. When Later Alligator opened in August of 2006, nearly every storefront in the block was vacant. Wheeling Florist, Cardinal Printing and Saseen’s where the few doing business. Today is a different story completely. The Market is vibrant and full of life.
Changes are coming and plans are on the table. To Susan’s delight, her son, Mitch, has recently come on board full time and is taking on the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. The staff of 22 works hard keeping the hungry crowds happy not only with their savory and sweet crepes but with their homemade soups, salads and sandwiches. Lunchtime or dinner, inside or outside in the courtyard are all good times to visit – and weekends also bring in a lot of people wanting to enjoy this acclaimed and award-winning restaurant.
Perhaps this location was destined to serve cocktails – as it was linked to the thirstier side of Wheeling’s history. The property that would become 2145 Market Street was sold to Andrew Joseph Hosenfelt in 1869 for $1500. The 1870 Ohio county census lists Hosenfelt as a saloonkeeper and their family would live in the building until they sold it in 1880.
Another German family, the Lohse’s, purchased the building for $6000. They also operated a saloon out of the location and lived upstairs with their children and a number of boarders.
Saloons were quite numerous at the time, when the Lohse’s purchased the building in 1880, their saloon was one of 80 in the city. By 1884, there were 111 saloons citywide! After the death of Mr. Lohse, his widow continued to live upstairs but the saloon was operated by Richard J. Wilkie and the Brandfass brothers – Christian, Edward, and Albert. (This historical information was once again provided by our compatriots, the Friends of Wheeling!)
It was also for a time, a jewelry store. There is a picture hanging up inside the restaurant with a sign above the storefront declaring, “The Jeweller Below the Creek!”
The most notable characteristic of the building is the “Frank Lloyd Wright” designed windows above the storefront. Wright designed the prism glass panes for the Luxfer Prism Company. These little glass panes, with just a hint of a purple hue, are known as “the flower pattern.” Frank Lloyd Wright would design 41 different patterns for the Luxfer Prism Company – but his flower pattern was the only one that was ever produced.
Any visitor to the restaurant can see that it is themed beyond the crepes that it serves. Inspired by the ground floor’s pressed metal ceiling (its pattern was created by the Wheeling Steel company) Haddad’s décor of choice is an immense Wheeling Steel collection with an array of items produced by the company and associated objects. Haddad’s collection began before the restaurant – in 1985 to be exact – when she started collecting Wheeling Steel watering cans at garage sales. The collection has grown to be what it is now – truly remarkable and all on display within Later Alligator.