"This is our place now."
That’s what Matt Lenzo, of the Touraine Club, heard a group of patrons say when they visited the recently remodeled restaurant at the corner of Bridge and Canal streets in Newcomerstown.
With a history dating back to 1938 and many different looks, including being a supper club in the early days, rock and roll bar with live music in the 1960s and early ’70s and even being a disco dancing destination in the late ’70s and 1980s, the Touraine Club has always been a staple in Newcomerstown. It was "our place" to thousands of residents of Newcomerstown and the surrounding community.
But the recent remodeling has brought back the type of clientele that Lenzo never thought would return from the early days of the Touraine Club. While it was a supper club in its early days, it was a younger and rowdier crowd that frequented it in the past few decades.
"I never thought I’d see booster seats and high chairs here," Lenzo laughed.
But it’s a move that has been welcomed by the community.
"It’s been phenomenal," Lenzo said. "The community responded almost overnight. I’m still amazed."
And the Touraine Club isn’t done yet. A new exterior is coming soon and Lenzo is working on a new menu for the supper club that will include steaks, seafood and pasta, a nod to the Lenzo’s Italian heritage.
It all goes back to Matt’s father, Joe Lenzo, and Joe’s brother, Vic. Those two built the first Touraine Club at what is now a State Department of Transportation building at the on-ramp to Route 36 near Cy Young Park. At that time, Route 36 didn’t exist and thousands of cars came through Newcomerstown daily on what was then Route 21 and is now Stonecreek Road.
That building ended up being sold to a church and the Touraine Club moved to its current location at the corner of Bridge and Canal streets.
"Dad moved here (current location) in 1963," Lenzo said. "I can remember him having an El Camino with a camper on the back. He would come here and make a bunch of food, load me and Anthony (Matt’s brother) into the El Camino and take off down 36 to feed I-77 construction workers. I’m going to guess I was under 10."
Matt and Anthony were just two of seven children born to Joe and Audrey Lenzo: Joe Jr., living in Australia; Jeff, in Cleveland; Carmella Lenzo Roush in Dover; Kim Lenzo Kees in Strasburg; Anthony, now deceased; Tara, in Springfield, Mo; and Matthew, "the baby."
Carmela Lenzo Roush said, "Back in its day, it (the Touraine Club) was quite the place for bands, exceptional atmosphere and food."
She continues, "My brother-in-law David Kees is an amazing person and designer. He was the creative director and eventually head of TV and consumer print advertising for Fruit Of The Loom for many years. You know those fruit characters? Well, David worked with "the GUYS" creating commercials. He also worked with dozens of major celebrities over the years such as Alan Jackson, Terry Garr, David Hasselhoff, Alabama, Larry Hagman, Muhammad Ali, Chubby Checker and many other stars shooting commercials for Fruit Of The Loom. Dave is humble and a quiet man so most people would never know these things.
"David and his wife Kim have moved back home to Ohio after living in Kentucky for over 35 years. Dave has put his creative talent and carpentry skills learned when helping his father and uncles build custom homes to work in Newcomerstown and for the 100-year-old legacy of the the Lenzo family and the Touraine Club."
She recalls, "The Touraine Club has been the same décor for all the years my dad and now my brother Matt have owned it. David saw the potential in that the Touraine was well established, had great food and did have a loyal customer base. He and Matt decided to redesign the interior of the Touraine and the transformation is just amazing.
"The transformation of the Touraine Club was a hard decision for Matt as he expressed to me it was like giving up some part of our Dad. He was encouraged that Dad and our late brother Anthony would be so happy this improvement was being made and that Dave had been a part of the renewed look for the Touraine Club."
David Kees, whose family is from the Mudsock area five miles south of Newcomerstown and remembers Mudsock got its name back in the day before paved roads when some child ran across a rain-soaked road and lost his shoe. Kees also said he remembers playing putt-putt golf in the lot beside the Touraine Club, with Joe also owning the golf course.
"I played it all the time," David said. "It was 25 cents a game and the course was there for several years." He said that the Lenzo daughters would work there and, of course, David married one of those daughters, Kim. The course had an intercom system hooked into the main building and golfers could order food and eat at a counter than ran around the outside of the golf course building.
"My father must have seen some of me in him, that I would stick around to do this," Matt said. "I left a few times but always came back. I was working here when I was big enough to reach the grill, and that was young."
"Joe was his mentor and everything he knew about restaurant business was passed down," Kees said. "They are Italian and that information didn’t always come as a whisper."
The memories of the Touraine Club can go by as quickly as a strobe light on a disco dance floor …
• 60’s go go girls, who were probably an extension of the wait staff.
• Live bands in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, including Gray Ship, Kats (from Columbus), Buckwheat, Power Cats, Wild Cherry and Quick, which Matt swears included Steve Perry from Journey.
• The sudden and huge impact of disco with the Touraine Club adding a lighted dance floor and a disco ball, with Anthony acting as the disc jockey.
"Friday and Saturday nights were packed," Matt remembered. "You couldn’t move. My father made sure there was a band every weekend in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He kept up with the young crowd. At one time there was as many as 16 bars in Newcomerstown. Dad loved the competition and was willing to try different things."
One of the things that built into the current iteration of the Touraine Club was that David Kees basement is done like the updated style of the Touraine Club interior.
"We had ideas about how to get a dinner club started," Kees said. "My feedback almost immediately was to do a facelift in the bar first, finish the dining room soon after then take a cold hard look at the outside of the building, which is coming. We repurposed materials from old barns, some from Erie (Pennsylvania), Hocking Hills Ohio and Howard Ohio). The wood came from barns built in 1903-1906, poplar, with old tin and in the original patina. So this is done in that flavor....a brew pub, with a rustic modern vibe going on here."
"We had Gary Holland, the Newcomerstown Chief of Police, and Newcomerstown Mayor Pat Cadle coming in saying, ‘Matt,’ open your restaurant,’" Matt Lenzo said. "I knew I wasn’t getting any younger and I felt Newcomerstown and surrounding area needed a place for steaks, seafood, pasta and augmenting our bar food. We intend to add a salad bar, a different dinner menu and a big screen tv."
Kees admitted some of the patrons had their doubts during the remodel stages.
"I was working as unobtrusive as possible so as not to interrupt the daily business. People came in while I was working and said they didn’t see the vision. Now that it has come together, especially back in the back we are hearing many compliments."
The tree in the back dining area was provided by Newcomerstown native Kathy Shryock.
"She said, "I’ve got a tree (art) that might fit". Matt said, " To me, the tree means Dad and Mom because they always loved trees".
The logs in the back room, bar and foyers are real, sawed up pieces of old pine logs from the Kees farm out in Mudsock. Other subtle interior features can be found just by looking around. Dave Craigo of Craigo’s Garage on Canal Street donated old gas pump handles that now serve to support the barn lamps over the dining room booths.
"I’m excited by the possibilities," Matt Lenzo said. "It’s been years, 15 years, since I felt this way about the Touraine Club. My health hasn’t been the best but I feel rejuvenated.
"I can’t say enough about my employees. They’re the ones that make it. If you don’t have good employees you don’t have anything. None of this would have happened without Mom, Dad, Grandpa and Grandma, and all of the patrons of the club over the years and their support."
Kees noted, "This transition gives this community a leg up, a reason to come here which might not have happened for any other reason. The exterior updates will really be a game changer. That will come in next few weeks. This is a place to come in and feel comfortable. It’s a real value to community."
Matt Lenzo emphasized that Newcomerstown and the surrounding area has always supported the Touraine Club and noted the area has supported even more through social media, with Kees noting the Touraine Club has products at an affordable price point for the area.
"Fast food restaurants have value for the food but we have the same value with the a sit-down dining experience."
Jack Hook of Port Washington said he and his wife, Linda, have started to frequent the Touraine Club.
"The Touraine Club had a reputation of being pretty rowdy," Hook said. "Matt’s been getting rid of the riff-raff. He’s been just fantastic and just wants to have a good establishment. We go to church across the street at the Light of the Valley (where Matt also attends) and just come across after church to have lunch.
"But the most important thing is the quality of the food. I told Matt he needs to raise his prices! I highly recommend it to everyone."