Cheers to Family!

Drink in a Little History

If the walls could only talk. Allendale Bar and Grill, a local institution in Allendale, has been run by generations of the Kunisch family for over 90 years. As far back as they can remember, Chris and Craig Kunisch, along with their sister Kate Ohnegian, have worked in the family business that dates back to the 1930’s beginning with their great-grandmother and great-grandfather.

Maude and Michael Connelly moved to Allendale from Clifton in 1935 and operated a small tavern in the old Allendale Hotel across from the train station. It was known for great food and generous portions and Maude was renowned county-wide for her generosity, especially appreciated during the Depression years.

When the home at 67 W Allendale became available, they moved the whole family there along with the business and extending the bar area. Several years later, Michael passed away and Maude was left to raise five daughters and run the pub on her own. Fortunately, the youngest of the five, Connie, lived to be 94 years old and was a great resource who shared the families’ storied past with the next generations.

“Our grandfather married Maude’s oldest daughter, Marge,” says Chris, “and he started working at the pub. He was a pressman during the day and worked the bar at night.”

A photo in one of the upstairs offices shows a familiar face surrounded by a bunch of kids. “That’s Babe Ruth in the Allendale train station,” says Chris. “He used to stop here before and after his dental appointments!”

In the late sixties, Maude decided to retire and her family members bought her out. “Allendale Bar and Grill went from a one-room pub to a full restaurant thanks to the business sense of our father, Michael,” says Craig. Several expansions of the restaurant took place in the 70’s and 80’s.

Craig and Chris opened the Mahwah location at 2 Island Road in 1992 at a former general store and gin mill. It had been a popular gathering place for the workers of the American Brake Shoe and Foundry as well as the Ford plant in Mahwah. “My dad said, if you are interested in getting more business, you need to consider this location. If we don’t open it, someone else will,” says Craig. The siblings always took Dad’s advice to heart, who remained involved with the business until around 2011. “Dad never retired," says Katie, “he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

“Dad was a great businessman,” says Chris. “We grew up understanding that, although my dad never went to college, we would--and we were all expected to work hard. When the pandemic hit, we knew exactly what we were going to do. A lot of people depend on us to provide their livelihoods and we couldn’t let them down.”

When asked what their dad and grandparents would have thought about operating throughout COVID, Katie says, “We wouldn’t have been able to hold them back! They would be doing exactly what we are doing.” We were always taught that if it’s not working out the way you want it, you work harder,” says Craig. “Dad never closed the restaurant;" said Katie, "he never stayed home from work.”

Moving forward, the three siblings have met every day since March 18, planning, forecasting, and pivoting to make the business work through the pandemic. “It’s been a hustle,” says Katie.

“When we had to close down, we quickly reverted to takeout only,” says Craig. “The community all came out to support us, however we felt that by being open we were doing more harm than good because people were coming out and not social distancing. We needed to keep our customers safe. On March 22, we shut down for a month and a half and applied for loans and government assistance in order to sustain the business.

The family created a contactless pickup system initially, and then went on to plan their outdoor dining strategy. “Creating the process of opening outdoors was like opening two new restaurants! We figured out a layout of tables six feet apart, switched to single-use items, and planned a protocol for taking temperatures. We’ve gained our guests’ trust and confidence because we are doing it right.”

As they carry forward the family’s tradition of providing great food and spirits for their guests, the lessons learned from their family are clear. “We have always treated the word community as a “verb,” says Craig, “it’s all about giving back.”


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