The ‘school of E.H.D.’ leads local family to trio of restaurants in Huntington County

Jim Drabenstot (with wife Dana) and his sisters Jean Anne Bailey and Nancy Bonebrake (from left) operate Nick’s Junction, Nick’s Kitchen and Nick’s Country Café respectively.
Jim Drabenstot (with wife Dana) and his sisters Jean Anne Bailey and Nancy Bonebrake (from left) operate Nick’s Junction, Nick’s Kitchen and Nick’s Country Café respectively. Photo by Andre B. Laird.

Originally published Sept. 30, 2013.

Most family-owned restaurants have all the members working at one location.

In Huntington County however, three kids have carried on their father's legacy in the form of three restaurants.

The late Eugene H. Drabenstot acquired the first "Nick's" restaurant, Nick's Kitchen, in Huntington in 1969. The restaurant has been open since 1908 and at the time he purchased it, Drabenstot was the fourth owner.

Today, Nick's Kitchen is owned by daughter and son-in-law Jean Anne and Kenny Bailey.

The "franchise" has grown to include Nick's Country Café, owned by daughter and son-in-law Nancy and Ray Bonebrake, and Nick's Junction, in Roanoke, owned by son and daughter-in-law Jim and Dana Drabenstot.

Bonebrake says all the kids got their start in the business by working at Nick's Kitchen.

"We were required to work there," she says. "I would say that we were educated at the school of E.H.D. (Eugene Harold Drabenstot)."

Jim Drabenstot also remembers getting an early start in the business.
"I started working there at 9 years old washing dishes," he notes. "I started cooking at age 12."

Eugene Drabenstot owned the business for 20 years. The opportunity to purchase was a chance that Bailey capitalized on.

"We knew he was retiring it and thought it would be a good opportunity for us," she says.

Eugene Drabenstot set his sights on another building and in 1982 bought a restaurant in Roanoke.

"The former name was The Clydesdale Inn," notes Jim Drabenstot. "But after he bought it, he changed the name to Nick's Junction."

He adds that his father owned the restaurant for seven years before he and Dana purchased it in 1989.

Bonebrake says she chose to keep the "Nick's" theme at her restaurant for brand identity.

"Dad wanted everyone to know that the other restaurants served the same good food and had the same great service," she says. "He kept the name for continuity purposes."

Bailey says Nick's Kitchen is a well-known name, featured in numerous publications and serving a number of visitors.

"Dan Quayle stopped by on his way to the Republican Convention when he ran for vice-president," she says. "He visited quite a few times while he was in town."

Bailey adds that the notoriety has been good for business, as there are people who have come to the restaurants simply because they heard or read about it.

All three say that even when on vacation, they often run into people who have either visited or heard of Nick's Kitchen and its famous tenderloin, which is offered at all three restaurants.

Bonebrake says that even though Nick's Kitchen has its fair share of local customers, Nick's Country Café and Nick's Junction see a lot more local traffic.

"We all have different niches that we fill and we love the people that we serve," she says. "Even though Nick's Kitchen is more known, all the restaurants are successful in their own right."

Bailey and Jimmy Drabenstot both became restaurant owners on the same day - July 5, 1989 - Bailey purchasing Nick's Kitchen, and her brother purchasing Nick's Junction.

Bonebrake opened Nick's Country Cafe several years later, in 1992.

"At the time I was working for Jimmy and the opportunity came up for me to own a restaurant of my own," she says. "The original location of the restaurant was the (current) Los Amigos building on South Jefferson Street."

She adds that Nick's Country Café was located there for four years, after which she relocated to its current location on Old U.S.-24.

"After realizing that the building was never going to be up for sale, we purchased the one we have in 2000," she says. "It was a good fit for what we wanted to do."

With such a storied legacy in Huntington County, all three agree that the most rewarding part of the job is the interaction with the customers.

"I love the people the most," says Bailey. "It's fun to have people come in and look at the pictures on the wall and tell stories of my dad."

Bonebrake adds that she is blessed every day by the kind words of her customers.

"Until recently, I wasn't able to spend much time in the front of the room," she says. "But now I have time to do that and the experience interacting with the customers is fun."

Jim Drabenstot says his restaurant's clientele is a good mixture of locals and people passing through.

"Business is good and we have great customers," he says. "This is a small town and we love what we do."

He adds that with Nick's Kitchen being a landmark in Huntington County and the success of the other restaurants, the experience has been rewarding.

Although none of the siblings plans to retire any time soon, Bonebrake says the opportunity for someone to carry on the legacy will be there.

"We don't have children who are interested in taking over at this point," she says. "That may change in the future, but there is potential for someone to come in and carry on the legacy."

Nick's Kitchen is located at 506 N. Jefferson St., Huntington. Its phone number is 356-6618.

Nick's Country Café is located at 1643 Old U.S.- 24, Huntington. Its number is 356-4849.

Nick's Junction is located at 4215 E. Station Rd., Roanoke. Its phone number is 672-2977.

Complete caption: Jim Drabenstot (with wife Dana) and his sisters Jean Anne Bailey and Nancy Bonebrake (from left) operate Nick’s Junction, Nick’s Kitchen and Nick’s Country Café respectively. The siblings are torch-bearers of a legacy handed down from their father, the late Eugene H. Drabenstot.