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From Yellow Brick Bank to The Press Room

December 03, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - When he was 19 years old, Michael Luksa took over as the head of the kitchen at the Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Thirty years later, he is finally accomplishing his dream of opening his own place.

"The idea of owning your own restaurant is always your long-term goal," said Luksa, a chef. "I don't think I should have waited until I was 49 years old. But better late than never."

Luksa and his wife, Deborah, opened The Press Room in Shepherdstown in September and attempted to combine a warm inviting atmosphere with regional food that has a Mediterranean influence.

Their customers - all 14 of the restaurant's tables are full most nights - indicate they've accomplished that goal, the couple said.

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"The comments have been everything we hoped," Deborah Luksa said.

Before opening, the couple traveled to cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and others, eating in restaurants and figuring out what they liked and disliked about them.

"It helped us get our thoughts together for here," Deborah Luksa said.

Instead of hiring a designer, the couple designed the interior themselves. They hired a Hagerstown contractor to renovate the building, a local craftsman to build booths and a local artist to create several large paintings of vegetables.

During the renovation they found a fireplace that had been cemented over, wooden floors that had been carpeted and brick walls that had been covered. All are now exposed and they hope to have the fireplace working this winter.

"When you open up something like this, it's really a labor of love," Michael Luksa said.

Many people seem to appreciate the fact that the couple retained aspects of the original character of the building.

"When people who knew the building come in they're like, 'wow, this is something,'" Michael Luksa said.

The couple bought the building two years ago, saying it was perfect because it had housed restaurants in the past.

Most recently it was divided into two spaces but the couple combined them. A full bar is in one half, as well as tables.

The restaurant is named The Press Room because the building once housed The Independent, a weekly newspaper in Shepherdstown. Copies of the now-defunct paper were printed on a press in what now is the restaurant's kitchen.

A few framed, yellowed copies of the newspaper hang in a hallway, including one edition announcing that bids would be opened for a new bridge to span the Potomac River. That bridge recently was imploded after a new one was built.

"I was trying to keep some of that attachment to this building, why it was here," Luksa said of the name The Press Room.

Michael Luksa worked at the Yellow Brick Bank off and on since 1978 and previously opened a restaurant in New Hampshire, where the couple lived for about four years before returning to the Shepherdstown area.

Luksa stayed at the Yellow Brick Bank for a year after it was sold, leaving in March.

His interest in cooking started in high school in Buffalo, N.Y., where he enrolled in a culinary program that he described as progressive and that included certified chefs as instructors.

A placement program led to his first job as a line cook, followed by being hired at the Yellow Brick Bank, which is now one of the town's most established restaurants.

The couple said that the town's handful of restaurants of different types make it a destination and that the restaurants complement one another rather than act as competition.

Luksa said he has watched the town grow and that its arts and academic community make it a good fit.

"Shepherdstown just has a very unique draw to it," he said.

He said, he hopes that the reputation The Press Room develops is for being a favorite of local residents.

Lower-priced entrees were purposely added to the menu, which features soups, salads, appetizers, pasta dishes and main dishes that feature seafood, duck, steak and chicken. Several specials are offered each night.

Desserts and three types of coffee also are available.

Luksa said his style of cooking involves using local ingredients whenever possible and keeping the dishes simple but with a variety of ingredients that keep each bite interesting.

"We don't do a lot to the food," he said.

For months the couple scribbled down recipe ideas in a notebook, and said the hardest part of compiling the menu was deciding which dishes to eliminate.

Future plans include opening the restaurant for brunch and lunch.

"We've had three calls this morning for lunch," Deborah Luksa said one recent day just after 10 a.m.

The Press Room, at 129 W. German St. beside The Opera House movie theater, is open every night except for Tuesday, beginning at 5 p.m. Reservations are recommended.

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