Pancake Farm property sold

By on October 30, 2019

Future still unclear for continued use as eatery

Ephrata’s iconic Pancake Farm restaurant has been sold, but don’t lick your lips in anticipation of enjoying eggs, bacon, Belgian waffles or their famous home fries. At least not yet.
Oak Tree Development Group, 2456 Noll Drive, Lancaster, purchased the property last week from longtime owners Kathy Styer and Beth Buchter. Now they are looking to lease the popular local eatery.

The shuttered restaurant is “well-placed, real estate-wise” said Oak Tree’s Michael O’Brien, which is why the high-end developer purchased the nearly two-acre site with hopes of leasing it out.

“We have traditionally bought real estate that we thought had some upside and this site does,” O’Brien said. “That’s what drove our interest in buying the property. I thought we had a great opportunity to get something done there such as landing another restaurant use.”

O’Brien seems well suited for such a task. In 2004-05 his company, O’Brien Development, razed the dilapidated Mountain Springs Hotel and refurbished the eight-acre tract that now contains an

Applebee’s restaurant, the Hampton Inn and Suites and an as-yet unbuilt third building. More recently, he and Oak Tree have undertaken the sprawling reuse of the former Wilbur Chocolate factory in Lititz.

The Pancake Farm while still in operation. LNP archived photo.

But for now a question mark hangs over the Pancake Farm’s future. There’s the hope that it will remain a restaurant or it could find another use dictated by its highway commercial zoning.

“We could rebuild there but we’re going to try to reuse (the building) if possible,” O’Brien said. “We’re just starting those efforts in earnest now. We’re going to explore all opportunities for the site. That’s the bottom line.”

The longtime owners of the Pancake Farm, Kathy Styer and Beth Buchter, have offered to assist a new owner in getting started, even to sharing recipes. Recognizing that the Pancake Farm is a local icon O’Brien said having Styer and Buchter lend their experience to a new operator “would become an opportunity to maybe have something occur there like what was there before … a restaurant use that would have a community focus.”

As for the former owners of the Pancake Farm themselves, the sale on Oct. 18 of the restaurant was a bittersweet moment. Styer said it was a “load off our minds” as they had to regularly visit the site to check on the building.

“It sat there empty for a year and we started to get concerned that something might happen to the place,” Styer said.

Another concern for the duo, well known for founding Leo’s Helping Paws animal rescue group, were a number of feral cats residing on the land.

“We’ve fed about seven feral cats for the past six years,” Styer said.

With permission of Oak Tree, the cats can stay but their habitat will be moved to the northwest corner of the lot.

Feral cats and building aside, the biggest impact on their lives since the closing of the restaurant last Dec. 1 was the comments they received via social media of how the Pancake Farm affected their former customers.

“When I keep reading comments from people I don’t know and who came to the restaurant and how special we were to them, it does humble you,” Styer said. “It’s like, wow. We just had no idea.”

Styer said she knew the restaurant was held in high regard by the local community, “but to see people from England commenting, or someone from out of the area saying ‘Oh no, when I come to visit my family where am I going to go?’”

“It’s very heart-warming,” she said. “It makes us feel good that we were part of a community that really thought a lot of what we did. I know there’s a lot of people who miss us.”

Founded in 1960 by George and Hilda Mohler who ran it for 22 years, Buchter and Styer began leasing the Pancake Farm in 1982 from GM Associates in Lancaster.

“I had $5,000 going into this but I had the support of food providers and things like that willing to extend 30-day credit giving me time to generate some income,” Styer recalled.

She signed the lease on Oct. 26, 1982 and opened the doors a day later.

In 1991 GM Associates notified Styer that they planned to sell the property.

“We had built up a really good business in those 9 years, so when we told our customers that the developer wanted to sell the property a lot of them loaned us the money so we could continue,” Styer said. “We had one customer who loaned us $125,000.”

They owned it for the next 36 years, upgrading the kitchen and buying modern commercial appliances, unlike the home kitchen-type stoves and refrigerators Hilda Mohler used. The $550,000 selling price paid last week included all of the equipment, new air conditioning and flooring.

“That’s why I’d like to see it stay a restaurant because to go in and tear all that down would be sad,” she said.

In the year that the building has been for sale there had been no acceptable offers.

“We took quite a loss but we’re still happy,” Styer said.

Retirement has its benefits, though, and both Styer and Buchter have upped the activities of Leo’s Helping Paws.

“We’re doing more events, like we helped the Ephrata Lions’ Club with their bingo tent at the Ephrata Fair,” Styer said.

Besides helping with the bingo game, the two also gave patrons a small taste of Pancake Farm cooking in the form of barbecue, chicken corn soup and chili.

“People lined up at the end of the bingo and wanted to know if they could buy quarts of the stuff,” Styer said. “They missed our food.”

Hopefully not for long, but only time will tell.

“I personally would love to see the Pancake Farm open up as a restaurant,” Styer said. “But at this point we really don’t have any say.”

Larry Alexander is a freelance columnist for The Ephrata Review. He can be contacted at 

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