By SCOTT McCLOSKEY
WHEELING - More than six decades after Ernie Pandelos bought an old shack situated on a hillside along W.Va 88 in Bethlehem, the place he eventually turned into one of the premier dinner clubs in the Wheeling area is for sale.
Ernie's Esquire Restaurant and Lounge, which first took shape as a dinner club along Bethlehem Boulevard in the early1950s, has provided Pandelos with a lifetime of treasured memories.
Pandelos, who currently resides with wife Mikie in a home overlooking the Edgwood section of Wheeling, said he decided to close the doors of "The Esquire" a couple of years ago after experiencing what he called some minor health issues.
"It wasn't anything serious, but it (the business) took a lot of work," he said.
Pandelos said the price of the business site is "negotiable," since the facility and property could be used for a variety of purposes.
He said he already has received several inquiries about it since posting signs on the property more than a month ago. He said he is in the process of making appointments with interested parties.
And while Pandelos is willing to negotiate the sale with potential buyers, he admitted he would be "heartbroken" to see the establishment torn down or used for anything other than a supper club.
"It was the place. It still can be. I would like to see somebody take care of it right. ... We made a lot of people happy there," said Pandelos.
Besides hosting well-known bands like the original Vogues and the Ink Spots, the Esquire was the scene of appearances by a long list of celebrities, including Tom Jones, Tayna Tucker, Patti James, the late Dave Thomas (founder of the Wendy's restaurant chain) and Wheeling native John Corbett.
"Don't ask me where I got the ability," Pandelos said regarding the development of the Esquire over the years.
Pandelos also owned eight other establishments in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, such as the former Ernie's Cork and Bottle on 12th Street in downtown Wheeling.
"I just like to expand and do things," said Pandelos while talking about the transformation of the Esquire over the years.
Pandelos said when he first bought the property, just a small shack stood on the site. He said he added on to the club several times over the years. The last addition was a large reception hall, added to the rear of the structure and officially opened on New Year's Eve 2000.
"I always believed in quality food. I use to cut all the steaks," said Pandelos, who grew up in Martins Ferry near a slaughter house where he first worked at cutting varieties of meat and steaks. He said he enjoyed actually working in the kitchen at the supper club.
Mikie Pandelos said one of the special qualities about the Esquire was the countless number of people who celebrated engagements, weddings, baptisms and many other special family events at the restaurant.
"It's just been a family thing over the years. People remember when they were kids going to the Esquire," she added.