There’s no place like it.
Some say, it’s where the heart is.
For Tom Cousino, being back at Cousino’s Steakhouse on Woodville Road on a daily basis was like coming home again, he said.
For some 12 years, Cousino had left day-to-day operations of the Steakhouse in what he calls the capable hands of management staff.
During that time he was devoting his time, with his wife Eileen and son Cory, to opening and running Cousino’s Navy Bistro and other eateries at The Docks, located on the eastern banks of the Maumee at International Park.
“Recently, Eileen said, ‘Tom, it’s been a long time since you worked at the Steakhouse on a regular basis –go have some fun,’” Cousino said.
He was intrigued by the prospect of having a more “hands-on” role at the family’s flagship restaurant, which has been an East Side landmark for more than half a century.
Earl and Jerry Cousino opened Earl’s Steak House at 1842 Woodville Rd. in Oregon in 1945. Son Tom took over in 1976, but had been working at the family business since he started stocking shelves at the tender age of 10.
Since coming back, Cousino has made a few interior renovations, including some fresh paint and other interior sprucing up (look for little touches of the former Chez Vin here and there). He has also been “tweaking” and adjusting things a bit.
“Over the years, we had gotten away from some of the little nuances that I felt made us special,” Cousino said. “For instance, we always used to do our mozzarella sticks with cocktail sauce – with just a little horseradish in it. That had gotten homogenized down.
“Another example - we have a great bread pudding, and it’s best when it’s served with vanilla sauce – but there has to be enough sauce,” he said. “And if there’s some left over for customers to finish off with their spoons, that’s ok.
“I’m devoting my time and efforts to going back to the flavors that people have loved and relate to – the subtleties that made this a signature restaurant for so many years,” he said.
Speaking of signature, Cousino noted that the Steakhouse’s house special, the 8-ounce hand-cut sirloin strip steak dinner, is now being offered at a special price of $9.99 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. After six, the dinner is $12.59.
“This is an ugly time in our history, economy-wise,” Cousino said. “We’ve seen some savings in our beef costs, so we found ourselves able to pass that savings down to our guests as well.”
Despite the economy, locals still flock to the Steakhouse for their fix of familiar comfort foods, some regulars coming a couple of times a week.
“We’ve all adjusted how we eat,” Cousino said, “Maybe they’ll get water with lemon rather than a coffee or tea or a soft drink, but people still enjoy coming out for a good meal at a good value.”
And then there’s the hospitality. One of the best things about being back at the Steakhouse is working “the front of the house,” meeting and greeting and reminiscing with the many familiar faces that come in, Cousino said.
“I’m still recovering from working Valentine’s Day,” he joked the Tuesday afterward. “We started on a wait at about 3 or 3:30 in the afternoon and at 20 minutes till 10, we seated our last person.
“It was a family affair – we had five generations here working,” he said. “It was great – like the old days.
“I’ve been having a ball,” he said.
“I tease with all my customers, you know that commercial with the Easy Button? This restaurant is the Easy Button, comparatively,” he said. “Guests here, they’re not demanding, but they do know what they want, and that’s what we produce.
“The Navy Bistro and the rest of the complex demands a lot of time, it’s a big facility – a different atmosphere,” he said.
And what about rumors that The Docks will be closing?
“It’s silly stuff – it’s all untrue,” Cousino said. “There have been rumors that the Steakhouse is closing around for a long time too - that Sun Oil bought me out. I supposedly got a very large check for it.
“If that’s true, I wish someone would show me the check,” he said.
“This is a challenging time for our industry – like all industries,” he said. “People are scared, and they tend to become more frugal.
“But we’ll survive - we will come out of this, just doing things the way we have always done them,” he said. “With 63 years of history, we’ve been doing something right.”
And in the coming weeks, as the weather turns warm, watch for Cousino to head outside of the Steakhouse to do some painting and sprucing up.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “I paint the outside about every two years.
“And when I’m outside, my customers will drive by and honk, and I’ll wave to them,” Cousino said.
“I love that.”
Cousino’s Steakhouse is located at located at 1842 Woodville Rd. in Oregon. Call 419-693-0862 or visit www.cousinosrestaurants.com/steakhouse/ for more information.
Tom Cousino is having fun greeting the regulars and welcoming first-timers to Cousino’s Steakhouse at 1842 Woodville Rd. Cousino has returned to oversee day-to-day operations at the Steakhouse after leaving to start and operate restaurants at The Docks some 12 years ago. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)