Nestled in the row of businesses along Main Street in Durbin is the well-known Al’s Upper Inn. Famous for its burgers, the restaurant opened in 2012 and was recently purchased by “the Chrises” – Chris Tabasco and Chris Dennison.
The pair worked for former owners Laura Dent and Fred Palmer for several years and when they wanted out of the business, Tabasco and Dennison stepped in to keep the restaurant going.
“They were kind of burnt out,” Dennison said of the former owners. “The restaurant business is hard. You could tell they were done.”
“The last thing we wanted was to see it close,” Tabasco added. “I’ve been in this business for twenty-five years. I’ve been in the bar business for sixteen-and-a-half years. I’ve run plenty of restaurants, so it’s a no brainer for me. It wasn’t a problem to do it.”
The couple moved to Pocahontas County several years ago from California, and Dennison has the story down pat as to how they came to settle here.
Dennison’s father was originally from Charleston, his mother from Chicago, Illinois. They met, married, had Chris and moved to Berkeley, California. The parents divorced 10 years later.
“The best man [at the wedding] heard that they split up, and he wrote my mom a letter and my mom said ‘I knew from that first letter I was going to spend the rest of my life with him,’” Dennison said.
The best man was Dick Evans, of Hillsboro, who married Dennison’s mom and moved back to the county in 1977.
“So we moved out here, too,” Dennison said. “It’s kind of ‘been there, done that’ in California. It’s a gorgeous state and all, but it’s got its problems. We hadn’t explored the east coast much at all, and it’s a whole lot cheaper here. We got a house down in Dunmore, and here we are.”
“I fell in love with it,” Tabasco added. “When we came to visit, I was like, ‘why don’t we move here?’ I like the small, eclectic feel of it.”
After the Chrises became the official owners of the restaurant, they closed for a few weeks to renovate the dining and rec areas.
“When we were remodeling – we were closed for two and a half weeks – it was cool; a lot of people did a lot of work and wouldn’t take any money,” Dennison said of those who helped with renovations.
“Twenty-two people came through here, painting, fixing chairs,” Tabasco added. “It was amazing. We had so much support, and we’re so thankful.”
There is still more to do, but the pair wanted to be open for their eager customers. The restaurant has been brightened up with white and red walls, and the dining area has opened up. To the right inside the entrance is a rec area with a pool table and big screen TV, and the bar maintains its rich wood paneled appeal.
As for the menu, it remains the same, for the time being, but Tabasco is slowly changing things up as she gets a feel for what the customers want.
“I do a new soup every week, and I have weekly specials,” she said. “Right now, we’re working off the previous menu, and we’re keeping notes of what is most popular. We are going to get rid of probably thirty percent of the menu that’s really not being used.
“We’re implementing the new things, which are pulled pork, our Hawaiian burger and Philly cheese steak,” she added.
Despite being open for only two weeks, the new owners have seen a great turnout at the restaurant and have received lots of compliments.
“I think people like that there’s something new and different,” Tabasco said. “So far, I’ve had good responses, so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Eventually, the pair plans to add special nights, including live music, Karaoke, pool tournaments and a trivia night.
As for the name, it will change, too. But, Tabasco and Dennison are still working on that.
“We’re not a hundred percent sure on a name, but being that we want this place to embody the area, we’re thinking of something along the lines of ‘Country Roads,’” Tabasco said. “We like Roadhouse. We like Country Roads, so we’re thinking maybe Chris’ Country Roadhouse.”
“Country Roads Roadhouse doesn’t really roll off the tongue,” Dennison joked.
“We’re still tossing it around,” Tabasco said. “I want to be a hundred percent sure.”
He wants people to know it’s a restaurant that has a bar, not a bar that also serves food.”
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, noon to 10:30 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.