For the Novaks, the restaurant business has always been about family and friends. And when the popular Hungarian eatery moved into its new location last week, it once again felt like home.
From the adornments on the walls to the cozy atmosphere of a smaller place to the memories it generated, the new Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant site at 208 Second Ave. S.W. in downtown Albany has the exact feel the family was looking for.
“This is our third and final move,” said restaurant manager Karen Novak as her sisters Matilda and Kay Marie agreed in unison. Their parents, who started the restaurant in 1984, nodded approval.
The new site is a throwback to the original Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, which was housed on the corner of Santiam Highway and Bain Street for years. (It relocated to 2036 Heritage Way in 2003.) It's the only Hungarian restaurant in the state and one of just 19 in the entire country.
“It’s like home,” said Mama Matilda Novak, who, with husband, Joseph, still finds time to be a part of the business.
The family approach generates outward to customers. The younger Matilda, obviously named after her mother, pointed to the decorations on the walls. “All of it comes from our family and was brought over when my parents came from Hungary,” she said.
The paintings, murals, photos and keepsakes are additional reminders of the Novaks' home country. A cousin, Victor Horvath, painted the murals and other paintings. Family friend and local artisan Kay Ferguson created the stained glass work at the front of the building.
The move also provides the family with a few other perks. Karen, who manages the restaurant, said the space offers a better opportunity for business. “It’s more visible, we have less overhead and we own the building,” she said.
There have been adjustments as the management and staff become accustomed to the much smaller area. The change from the 4,800-square-foot building at its former site on Heritage Way, next to what is now Big Lots, to the new 2,700-square-foot location downtown is drastic but welcome.
“We did some on-the-job training for all of us last week,” Karen said. “We had a dry run Wednesday and then opened the doors Thursday. It’s an experienced staff and we are figuring it out.”
Signage arrived on Monday, with still more to come, Matilda said. Once the main sign is raised, it will increase visibility, although most regular customers know where the restaurant is.
“We’re still getting up to speed,” Matilda said. “Each day we are adding something new.”
The building itself is more than 100 years old and originally housed Broeder’s Meat Market. The remodel included a complete reworking of the front façade that brought back the historic look of the exterior. That effort was funded in part by a forgivable $200,000 loan from CARA (Central Albany Revitalization Area) and an additional grant from the state.
“We appreciate so much that support,” said Karen.” And our customers have been very supportive and positive.”
Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa said the city has looked forward to the move.
“The Novak’s project is a classic example of the change CARA is working to achieve. It remedied a blighted building, kept a beloved restaurant viable and will bring vitality to Second Avenue, which benefits the community overall,” she said.
The best news for customers may be that the menu will remain mostly intact. It'll be smaller, but that will make for more control in the kitchen. Like the physical feel of the building, the menu will be more like it was when the restaurant opened 31 years ago.
Novak’s will be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant will continue to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring its daily buffets Monday through Thursday and its popular brunch on Sundays.
The move became necessary when the recession hit in 2008. When the economy sagged, the Heritage Way site, which was fine until that point according to Karen, became what she called “a black hole” as business dropped off.
B and W Builders of Lebanon handled the remodel. Once that was completed, the move, according to all three sisters, was easy.
“The hard part was waiting to move,” said Karen. “It is smaller but we would rather have a full house and a line out the door. We love being downtown.”
Now that the move is over, the family's looking forward to what lies ahead. And everyone plans to be around. Joseph and Matilda will contribute as always.
“We are letting Mama off the hook a little, but she will still bake,” said Kay Marie. “She does the work of five people.”
And Joseph plans to be around too. Known for his personal visits to tables he will occasional drop by to greet customers.
“The family does all the work and I take the credit,” he says. “My job is to smile and be quiet.”