Pufferbelly: Under new management

Maria Nann

Kent State graduate Kevin Long is the new owner of downtown landmark The Pufferbelly Ltd. Long took over ownership on Jan. 1 after the the previous owners retired. His multiple years of experience in the restaurant buisness, including 20 years working at

Credit: Ron Soltys

Kevin Long is “not a limelight kind of guy.”

But after 20 years of working at the Pufferbelly restaurant in downtown Kent, Long is getting his chance in the spotlight.

Long took over the restaurant located on the corner of Main and Franklin streets on Jan. 2 and plans to keep its “good reputation.”

He began working there after graduating from Kent State, where he started in the Prentice Café and eventually ended up working at the Schwebel Garden Room Restaurant in the Student Center.

“At the time,” Long said, “the Schwebel Restaurant was the top restaurant in Kent and the surrounding areas. Their Sunday brunch — everyone knew about the Sunday brunch.”

After spending more than four years in the food service program at Kent State, Long moved to Colorado to work as a chef for a ski resort.

“The owner (of Pufferbelly) at the time called and wanted to know what I was doing,” he explained. “I was from Ohio. My family is from Ohio. So I came back.”

And he’s been there ever since.

Although being named the new owner of a restaurant may come as a shock to some, Long said it was not unexpected.

“We talked about it years ago,” he explained. “They (the previous owners) both decided they were ready to retire.

“It’s not the easiest business to be in,” he added. “I’ve done it all my life. You hate to see someone else come in and take over — someone who hasn’t been around.”

Long has been around, and he continues to be. Every day at work, he goes around to different tables, checking on customers, asking about the service, making sure everyone is satisfied.

“It makes a difference,” he said. “That’s what we try for. You can get a burger anywhere. It comes down to the service. You can train people how to take orders. It comes down to personalities.”

And for Long, service and personality are what it’s all about.

In the summer, when children at the restaurant hear the train whistles from the tracks next to the restaurant, Long takes them out the side door so they can “go out and have a look.”

“I feel so bad for them,” he said, laughing. “They run to the window, and they can hear the train, but they can’t see it.”

This is nothing out of the ordinary for the new owner of the restaurant. He will do just about anything to make sure customers “leave with a smile.”

“Everyone has so much going on in life,” Long explained. “Customers come in to get away from all that, and hopefully when they leave, they leave with a smile.”

The restaurant, which first opened its doors in December 1981, employs many Kent State students. According to Long, more than half of the Pufferbelly staff is composed of students. So, naturally, the restaurant tries to cater to the student population.

“One thing I found out,” Long said, “is that a lot of students see us as the expensive restaurant in town. We’re really no more expensive than anywhere else. We just have to be competitive.”

Long said he is trying to solve this problem and that one of his goals for the restaurant is to attract more students. In order to do this, he plans on implementing some new concepts. Recently, the restaurant began accepting FlashCash, and Long is now working on a 3 to 5 p.m. happy hour.

“I try to talk to students, get their reactions,” he said. “We’re going to be working on hitting the student market.”

Many Kent State students, however, already have built up impressions about the restaurant.

“The place is kind of interesting,” said Alex Moss, freshman exploratory major. “They have lots of Cracker Barrel-type decorations.”

Junior English major Emily Mitchell said she likes the building’s “old-world kind of charm.”

“It’s overlooked by a tall bridge and beside a river,” Mitchell said. “What more can you ask for?”

According to Moss, Pufferbelly is “a pretty good alternative to BW3 and some of the other restaurants around Kent that don’t really have good service.”

Mitchell agreed.

“I like to go there because the food is really good,” she said.

For Long, it’s nice to have good food, but the key is service.

“I want to hear when people leave, ‘So-and-so did a great job today,'” he said. “Everyone should think the service is excellent.

“I want to try to keep everything consistent,” he added. “I think we have a great staff. When you have consistency in employees, you have consistency in service.”

Contact features reporter Maria Nann at [email protected].