Eden Family Restaurant: Bringing Temptations for the Taste Buds to Wheeling Island
WHEELING — The team behind the scenes at Eden Family Restaurant is working hard to bring back a heavenly helping of Paradise Lost to Wheeling Island.
While opening a new business presents plenty of challenges, doing so right as a global pandemic unfolds would cast most entrepreneurs into the fire with no hope of redemption. Eden opened its doors early this year in the winter and quickly began growing into a neighborhood hot spot simply by word-of-mouth notoriety.
Then COVID-19 hit in March.
“Obviously like any restaurant, we took a bath,” Alex Coogan, co-owner of Eden Family Restaurant, said. “But we survived. We never closed for COVID.”
Coogan, along with fellow co-owners Brandon Criswell, Erik Marple and Eric Mena, had no intention of letting the pandemic take a fatal bite out of the business venture in which they had invested so much time, money and passion.
Because they were only open for a couple of months before the pandemic hit, they did not qualify for any kind of COVID-related assistance like other long-established businesses, Coogan said. But the crew saw the fruits of their labor paying dividends early in the year, and knew they wanted to see the restaurant grow and offer something that has a positive impact on the neighborhood.
Eden is one of a number of local business ventures spearheaded by the team, which has seemed to embrace a mission dedicated to hard work and grassroots community improvement. In fact, three of the four owners stepped up in the name of public service adn ran for Wheeling City Council earlier this year.
“Opening here was a way to protect the community,” Coogan said. “I’m an Island rat. Eric Mena’s an Island rat. Unfortunately, it was previously going downhill — a lot of the Island was, and I think it led to some people having a bad view of the Island, which is terrible because it’s so neat. We literally live on an island in the middle of the Ohio River. It’s the largest inhabited inland island in the U.S. It is a safe place, and it’s getting better. I think we’re on an uptake, and we want to do what we can to continue that.”
The site that is now Eden at 135 Virginia Street has changed hands over the years and has been open under many different names, but it had always been a bar for as long as most people in the neighborhood can remember.
“This place had a very sorted history with a lot of problems,” Coogan said, noting that some doubters predicted the establishment would be nothing but a dive bar or a hole in the wall no matter who tried to reinvent it. “So we named it Eden. It’s a fun spin-off.”
With a catchy theme in place, the restaurant took the idea and brought not only elements of it into the decor, but also into select items on the menu — with the Deity Burger, Divine Double or Holy Trinity Triple burgers, Paradise Lost breakfast platter or Eden Angel Cheesecake, temptation is around every corner of the menu for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The group worked hard to transform the space that traditionally had been known for so many years as a defunct bar into a place that was brighter, welcoming and more family-friendly. Most of the owners have children, and in years past, the place was not somewhere anyone would want to bring their children, Coogan noted. Today, however, Eden is a place to where neighborhood kids can walk and hang out.
“We’ve had a lot of compliments saying it’s never been this nice,” Coogan said, noting that although Eden does offer a bar with a high quality top-shelf selection, the business is a family restaurant. “It’s always had a very heavy bar vibe, and we’ve worked very hard to try to get rid of that. We’ve still got work to do, particularly on the outside.”
Eden has that Wheeling Island neighborhood vibe that you find only when you venture off of the main thoroughfare and into the community, where — if you look close enough — it is home to a growing sense of pride.
“Neighborhood kids will mow lawns and then come in here and buy themselves lunch as a reward,” Coogan said. “We have a good group of working-class folks who come in here, and this is their home away from home. We have some really good regulars. When we first opened and I saw everyone coming in here, it reinforced the fact that I knew we were doing something and doing it well, and that was making a difference.”
Eden currently has about 10-12 employees with part-timers which include Coogan’s children. On busy weekends before COVID struck, the restaurant had nearly 30 employees working there. Coogan said they hope to get back to those numbers when COVID restrictions loosen and the venue is able to bring in live music and host full-capacity crowds.
Until then, Eden’s in-house sound system provides the atmosphere in the neighborhood diner-style setting.
“When we first opened, we intentionally delayed our carryout game because we wanted to perfect our dining experience,” Coogan said. “The last thing I wanted to do was to have a packed house and have somebody call in and order 50 salads to go for WesBanco — and for me to botch it.”
Coogan said they’ve always intended to work hard and focus on perfecting one aspect of the business at a time before expanding and moving on to the next phase.
“So we never got that take-out business established in the beginning, and we got hammered for it when COVID hit. But we survived. I’m not sure we’re better for it — like they say, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But stuff’s coming back. Although we’ve never pushed to drive it in, we do offer carryout.”
As the owner of any business would agree, the time when COVID finally goes away can’t come soon enough. Coogan said he looked forward to getting through the winter and welcoming the arrival of conditions more conducive to growth next spring.
“I would like to see this grow like as I would like to see the rest of the Island grow,” he said. “We were going to focus a whole lot on walkability and target downtown. But the Suspension Bridge is still closed, we had no festival traffic this year and there’s no one launching boats. Once the Suspension Bridge opens back up and once we’re not dealing with COVID, I can really support people coming that way. Hopefully come spring again, we can encourage more walk-in patrons from downtown.
Still today, the menu is packed full of good eats. Some of the specialties available at Eden include the gourmet home-seasoned cheese sticks, the Cheesy Keith Steak Hoagie, big salads, many flavors and temperatures of wings, and much more.
They also offer popular meat loaf made by Dean Barath of Ideal Provisions mobile catering.
Eden is big on breakfast and several weeks ago expanded its morning hours of operation to catch the breakfast crowd. They also continue to serve all-day breakfast, as well.
“Our food’s delicious, our prices are reasonable and our portions are huge,” Coogan said. “You can’t please everyone all of the time, but I have very few people who come here and then don’t come back. We definitely work hard to get better every day.”
Hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 7 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.
For more information, visit Eden Family Restaurant on Facebook or call 304-312-2200.