In a small town, sometimes the responsibilities of a restaurateur are greater than serving good food and drinks.
“You are supposed to give back,” Robin Pavliscsak, owner of Sneakers Sports Bar and Grill in Ashford, said recently
Sometimes Pavliscsak does it in a really big, really entertaining way.
For example, on June 25 Sneakers holds its Sixth Annual Seafood Fest, an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink event to benefit Ashford’s food bank. The restaurant will give you $5 off the admission price ($30 in advance, $35 at the door) if you show up with five canned goods or other non-perishable food items.
The menu includes a list of seafood as long as your arm and is available throughout the five-hour event, 1 to 6 p.m. Draft beer, wine and soda are included in the price, as is the performing clown and moon walk for the kids, and live music by a local 16-piece band named The Great Garage Band Reunion.
Some 200 to 300 people are likely to attend, but if you miss it, you might want to try the annual pig roast in the fall. Or stop in on a weeknight for one of the $1.99 dinners. Or share a pitcher of beer and an order of wings (there are 18 flavors) while sitting under the motorcycle hanging from the ceiling.
Probably the motorcycle is the least of it. Inside, Sneakers looks as if a shipment of sporting goods and promotional items exploded and its contents stuck to the ceiling. There is also the mounted deer head wearing a bathrobe, Little League trophies and a Wii game mounted on the wall and photos of patrons – hundreds of them – taken during various benefit and special events. Pavliscsak has so many photos of her customers that there is no place to put nearly a two-year backlog. Little wonder the place was named by the Windham Chamber of Commerce as Ashford’s Business of the Year.
Sneakers is regarded for its community spirit, to be sure; but it is best known as a sports bar and is busiest during the Stanley Cup playoffs, for example, or UConn basketball games. Outside the front door are the equal but opposite Yankees and Red Sox benches painted by an employee while Pavliscsak was on vacation.
Over the bar is a cluster of televisions that enable fans of different persuasions to enjoy their games all at the same time… if they are not playing ping-pong or pool.
The bar and grill has live entertainment on most Friday and Saturday nights. There’s also outdoor picnic-table seating in the summer.
Few realize it, Pavliscak said, but about half of Sneaker’s business is from its food, and that’s the part she likes best. In addition to cooking for the restaurant, she caters weddings, for example, and lunch for the local senior center.
Her Sneakers menu is an eclectic mix of Italian, Hawaiian, Mexican, Chinese and American comfort food – from seafood fra diavolo ($13.50) to chicken gyro ($8.50) to crab Rangoon ($7.50) to burgers and fries.
The quesadillas are very popular, and the chicken fingers, Pavliscsak said.
Pavliscsak has been the owner of Sneakers for more than 15 years. She bought it from the original owner who hired her to open and run it, then sold six months later when his idea to make it a dance club did not pan out. (She told him it wouldn’t.) She’s worked in every aspect of the food service business – from fine dining to fast food -- since she was a teenager running a shift at McDonald’s in Mansfield.
Business for the last two years has been, in a word, “horrible,” Pavliscsak says. The bad economy has had a big impact, she said, “but we’re still here.”
The restaurateur, and mother of five, knows how to deliver a bargain, too. Sunday through Thursday the restaurant offers a dinner special for $1.99 – items such as tacos, pizza, hot dogs, spaghetti and meatballs or the Sunday pot roast with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables.
And the wings are 45 cents each on Sunday, too. You can choose from mild, spicy, hot, extra hot or something different like pina colada, wasabi or mesquite.
Sneakers, 55 Nott Highway, Ashford, 860-429-1332, is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The kitchen is open until closing. Happy hour is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. except Fridays, when it lasts until 9 p.m.