HUNTINGTON -- In 1938, Jim Tweel borrowed $1,500 to open his own restaurant.
Tweel expanded his business twice, first in 1948 and a second time in 1962. Much of the same equipment from the second expansion is still used today. However, the most famous addition to the restaurant came when a man named Bob Elmore gave Tweel a recipe for spaghetti sauce.
Over the years, Tweel earned a reputation as an unofficial ambassador for the city of Huntington, keeping a door open for anyone visiting the city. John F. Kennedy had breakfast at the diner during his successful presidential campaign. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton also have visited Jim's Steak & Spaghetti House, as did Sen. Bob Dole. Today, the restaurant is managed by Jim's daughter Jimmie Carder. A number of musicians and actors, including Dustin Hoffman, also have visited. Pictures of Jim's many famous guests adorn the walls of the restaurant.
"Jim's is a landmark here in Huntington. We just had our 71st birthday on June 9," Carder said. "We added a little bit to the sauce recipe in the 1950s, but we haven't changed it since. Over the years we've added a few sandwiches and a chef salad to the menu, but we haven't changed things.
"We have ovens that were put in back in the 1950s that still work. Many of the tables and counters are from the 1962 expansion. We have a customer who has a motto for us: 'If you want change, go to the bank.' "
The restaurant's signature item after all of these years remains its famous spaghetti, served with a choice of meat or marinara sauce and a side of bread. Another popular item is a cheeseburger, served on grilled bread for $2.95. The restaurant also offers a ribeye steak dinner for $12.75, served with two sides and a roll. Other sandwiches include fried haddock fish ($5.25), grilled cheese ($2.45) and grilled steak and cheese ($3.95).
"We make our own chocolate, coconut and banana cream pies," Carder said. "The chocolate and coconut pies are our signature pieces with crusts we make upstairs and are topped with real whipped cream. The banana pies are made each Thursday. We also sell strawberry pies in May. This year we sold 922 pies in one week, which is amazing in that we only sell them by the slice. That comes out to 5,532 slices."
A slice of pie costs $2.75.
The restaurant is well known for making its own side items.
"We make our own coleslaw here that's still the same recipe," Carder said. "It's a sweet coleslaw, some people even get it for dessert. We also make our own blue cheese, thousand island dressing and oil and vinegar dressings as well as tartar sauce for the fish sandwiches. Summer is a particularly interesting time for us, because people come in to visit and they say, 'Oh my gosh, it's still the same.' Quality, consistency and no change work for us."
Jim's Steak & Spaghetti House is located at 920 5th Ave., in Huntington. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Cash and checks are accepted.
Pint and quart-sized containers of Jim's famous sauce are available for $6.65 to $11.75.
To place a carry-out order or for more information, call 304-696-9788.