Despite its strong customer base and humble beginnings, Doan’s Bones on West Beaver Avenue was not able to survive a global coronavirus pandemic.
Amid the pandemic and the absence of students on campus, some businesses were able to stay afloat and sustain their clientele, but Doan’s Bones was not as fortunate.
A mother and son ate ribs for the first time and had an epiphany: they could make ribs, too. Thus, Doan’s Bones was born.
A few racks of ribs turned into 20 cases of ribs, as food was sold each week out of the back of the store they had already owned, according to owner Anita Corvin.
As their customer base grew, the family and other employees started to know their returning customers by name, making relationships and connections with every person who came through the door.
Their small restaurant, only able to seat roughly six people at the counter, was doing fairly well at their State College location prior to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Corvin.
“We closed [the restaurant] for spring break, and it never reopened again,” Corvin said. “[The restaurant’s location was] under The Graduate building, which is for students. We depend on the Penn State students for our business… and they never came back.”
The Doan’s Bones owners tried to sell their business, but with everyone gone from the area, they could not. They had to return their lease, Corvin said, losing even more money.
Doan’s Bones kept open one out of the two of their locations, the other nestled in the mountainside entrance of Whipple Dam State Park, but Corvin was forced to close the downtown location.
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The takeout restaurant still has customers like Harry Weidner, who recently returned to the area and has missed one of his favorite State College eateries.
Weidner (junior-biochemistry) expressed his love for the small business, saying he remembers coming back from a night on the town and stumbling upon Doan’s Bones.
Though Weidner described being a huge fan of the restaurant’s chips and salsa, he said what truly made his experience with the restaurant great is the staff members, who kept his loyalty punch card under their counter so he would not lose it during his travels.
“Crystal and I got tight,” Weidner said, referring to a Doan’s Bones employee. “She was so cool that she made fudge and chocolate covered strawberries for me and my friends on Valentine’s Day.”
Going the extra mile to know their customers is something that brought people back to the restaurant, Weidner said, so he would continuously send his friends as new customers to the small business.
“It was something I looked forward to every weekend. Seeing Crystal, her punching my loyalty card,” Weidner said. “Small business like that — that’s what makes State College special and feels like home.”
While several customers viewed Doan’s Bones in the way Weidner has, making the trek to the other location, Corvin made it clear that restaurant employees felt the same way.
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Creating nicknames and recognizing faces was a piece of the Doan’s Bones puzzle, which is something Corvin said she is extremely grateful for and will miss.
An apartment renter at The Graduate, Albert Zuba had a similar positive experience with the establishment.
Zuba (senior-chemical engineering) said he ate at the restaurant weekly, noting that having a small business connected to his building was a positive experience. He also said he is aware that all over the country, small restaurants like Doan’s Bones need help now more than ever.
“I think it’s important to support businesses and to understand that any place that’s placed under government restrictions for whatever reason — whether it’s warranted or not — could definitely use help from people,” Zuba said. “I know businesses are affected, individuals are affected, [and] I know people are losing jobs and everything so I think it’s important to support places that aren’t large corporations whenever you can.”
Though Doan’s Bones had to permanently close its doors, restaurants, bars and other small businesses nationwide have also had to close amid the pandemic.
Various factors have played into the rise of chains monopolizing the markets for stores and restaurants alike, but Corvin said supporting local businesses is vital to the community.
“Support your local business people. A lot of them are out of business because of [the coronavirus pandemic],” Corvin said. “Takeout is always great, but just support the downtown stores as much as [you] can.”
The Doan’s Bones Petersburg location is continuing to provide catering and takeout as it awaits the Whipple Dam State Park’s reopening in October, when the park is also opening more handicapped-friendly opportunities.
Corvin said missing the students is difficult, personally and in relation to her business, but hopes to continue the relationships she has created with them over time.
“They need to know that we support them also as much as they supported us.”