Nutcracker Family Restaurant Celebrates the Era

Nutcracker Family Restaurant celebrates the era

A neon sign at the Nutcracker Family Restaurant in Pataskala reads “Step back to the ’50s.”

Steve and Nancy Butcher opened their restaurant a quarter of a century ago as a portal for those who’d once lived during the 1950s, as they once did, attending sock hops and drive-in theaters.

Today, the Nutcracker is a time machine into the decade to pop a dime in a jukebox or buy a pack of Black Jack gum.

Steve Butcher Jr. at counterAt the diner “You can always tell a first-timer because they turn around and take everything in,” says son Steve Jr. “You’ll hear them say ‘Wow, I had no idea what was in here.’”

Both types of customers find a home here. Those who fondly remember living in the decade will want to reminisce and share stories with their loves ones over a homemade dinner. The Nutcracker also draws in younger crowds eager to take in the ambiance with its curious collection of nutcrackers, as well as its quality diner menu.

You’ll find scratch-made items such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf, corned beef hash and hand-breaded and cubed country-fried steak, as well as other comfort classics such as macaroni and cheese, and applesauce made with apples from nearby Lynd Fruit Farm. Breakfast is served all day, and daily dinner specials include all-you-can-eat spaghetti and all-you-can-eat ocean perch on select days.

Sweet treats include freshly baked pies, frosted-mug root beer and hand-dipped ice cream perfect for old-fashioned root beer floats and pie à la mode.

Fill up on the flavors from yesteryear at The Nutcracker’s candy counters. Introduce your children to candy you can’t find anywhere else, such as candy buttons, Astro Pops, Wacky Wafers, Valomilk, Black Cow, Razzles and Beemans gum that dates back to the late 1800s. There’s even candy necklaces — a fun souvenir you can wear and eat! There’s even heated cashews, just like the old-fashioned nut shops used to sell.

The off-the-wall candy is fitting, because the restaurant stems from sweets. Steve Sr. and Nancy opened Nutcracker Sweets in downtown Pataskala in 1995. Two years later, they moved to a more visible location on Broad Street. They expanded the menu to include breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the business was adorned with nutcrackers they’d collected.

However, they were shocked to hear, while traveling over the New Year’s holiday, that a fire had gutted the restaurant on Jan. 2, 2005. The only thing that survived intact was a Winnie-the-Pooh nutcracker and a dream to open again.

As the Butchers went on a hunt for 1950s relics to replace what they’d lost, community members pitched in. They helped with cleaning up, then demolishing, the building and held fundraisers to assist the employees who were out of work. And, they gathered nutcrackers.

“Every nutcracker that you see now in the building was donated by people in the community,” said Steve Jr. “On some of them, you’ll see the names on the bottoms of the families who donated.”

Nutcrackers lined up in the main dining room

The restaurant reopened less than a year after the fire, and a fresh set of nutcrackers, along with the smoke-damaged Winnie the Pooh, now line walls and windowsills. As they move forward to celebrate 25 years in business Steve and Nancy are pleased to be joined by Steve Jr. and his wife Kim to plan the future of the Nutcracker for the next 25 years. Nancy’s contribution is evident from the luscious Snicker Cookie Pie, which took first place in a national contest by General Mills in 2016. Almost all of the family members have worked at the restaurant over the years, from Steve Sr. and Nancy’s kids and their spouses to grandkids and even brothers and sisters. It truly is a family restaurant.

Playing in the background at the restaurant is music from the 1950s. There are two jukeboxes, a working model from the 1950s that patrons can crank up for a dime a song. Bring a quarter to give your children a ride on the antique horse — a perfect photo op. Take another photo beside the side view of a model 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air car that’s affixed to the wall.

“There’s so much visual for kids,” says Steve Jr. “We’re seeing a lot of families with younger kids that are just in awe. When Disney’s ‘The Nutcracker’ movie came out, we saw a lot of kids wanting to see our big display of nutcrackers.

“One night a family with a little boy came in after seeing the movie. I seated them by the 1956 Bel Air. The little boy got upset because he wanted to sit by the nutcrackers. I gladly moved them by the window. The meal is important, but sometimes the experience is more than the meal.”

— by Wendy Pramik