Vagabond chef keeps things cooking in Wheeling
WHEELING, W.Va. – After years spent in cafes and kitchens across the west, blogging chef Matthew Welsch has returned to his native Ohio Valley, where he says the economic atmosphere is ripe for diversified business.
“There’s new energy in Wheeling that extends throughout the upper valley – through Moundsville, Weirton, Chester, New Martinsville and Parkersburg,” he said.
“It’s not about the drilling boom, though that’s a part of it. The energy seems to be present everywhere.”
Four months after opening the Vagabond Kitchen in the McLure Hotel, Welsch says his assumptions about the energy were correct. In addition to hotel guests, many of whom are drillers, a diverse group of clients have been walking through the door.
“The other day a couple from Little Washington came to visit the restaurant. Instead of driving the half hour to Pittsburgh, the drove the half hour to Wheeling,” he said.
“People want to get out of the big city and rediscover the country, and that’s a big reason I chose to open a restaurant here.”
Welsch’s perceptions are backed by Jake Dougherty, director of Reinvent Wheeling, who says there’s a resurgence of interest in life here prompted by millenials tired of living through electronic mediums.
“I definitely have to agree that there’s something happening here,” he said, “not only in the outside but from within.”
Dougherty says development in the downtown is being bolstered by shareholders such as Welsch himself, who see the potential in downtowns like Wheeling’s.
“We’re seeing an influx of younger investors who are partnering with older, established investors, he said. “It’s an amazing time to be here.”
Of course, Welsch says, he likes to think the menu has as much to do with the growing popularity of the restaurant. Informed by a decade spent in kitchens on the road, he developed what he thought was a menu suited to a small city with an appetite for something new.
“I think it was the right time to introduce New American cuisine to the market,” he says.
His method has been to serve what might be called high-end comfort food and introduce more uncoventional dishes through experimentation.
In this way, he has made Korean pulled-pork tacos a house favorite, though standards such as burgers and club sandwiches maintain their places on the menu.
Welsch says he expects business to continue to increase as the menu grows, as the restaurant’s reputation expands, and as the valley’s ability to draw visitors and new residents increases.