Denise and Dennis Blankemeyer have been passionate about hospitality their whole lives. Now, they’ve poured that passion into Johnstown’s newest restaurant: Ghostwriter Public House.
Ghostwriter is a study in juxtapositions—the white and charcoal interior, the interplay of light and shadow, the sheer and heavy textiles, the “refined rustic” menu. One thing that doesn’t need a foil, though, is the warmth of its spirit. Their hospitality shines through.
“The biggest compliment we got, right out of the gate, was that it seemed as if we’d been open for years, just how everybody was working in sync together,” Denise said.
The Blankemeyers have a history of putting their passion into action. They started their Crow Works furniture business in the 1990s, moving from retail into design and manufacturing, and eventually purchasing a manufacturing facility in Killbuck, Ohio, surrounded by a 100-acre farm. The Blankemeyers moved their corporate offices to Johnstown in early 2019 and opened Ghostwriter in November.
“It’s just something we always wanted to do, open a restaurant,” Dennis said. Denise laughed. “I don’t think a single person said ‘Hey, that’s a great idea,’” she added. But they view it as the ultimate creative expression: Designs, flavors, sights, smells and a welcoming atmosphere.
“We thought, if we don’t make money on the restaurant, that’s okay; we can use it as a marketing space,” Denise said. “We could take that leap of faith, knowing that it wasn’t our livelihood.”
Local art and artisanship is big at Ghostwriter. From the art on the walls, to the ornate frames around the televisions, to the brass beer tap handles, to the Crow Works furniture, to Dennis’ custom designed footrail, nearly everything that can be locally sourced has been. Of course, that extends to the food as well, with the majority of the menu procured from Ohio farms.
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So why the name? “A ghostwriter is someone who writes the story but doesn’t take the credit,” Dennis said. “Immigrants picking grapes, beer makers, people you don’t see in the back washing your dishes, there’s a whole team of people who are very passionate, but they don’t get the credit, and it’s a nod to them.”
The space is both lively and relaxed. Ghostwriter has not one, but two full bars—one in the front of the building and one next to the open kitchen. The bars operate on speed wells, and in place of a backdrop of bottles, two large televisions display ambient imagery.
“Oftentimes when we grab a bite to eat, we like to sit at the bar because there’s more energy there,” Denise said. “We knew we were going to do the main bar, but with the open kitchen, we felt like there wouldn’t be enough energy on that side, so we threw in another bar.”
The Blankemeyers took the same approach to hiring that many successful restaurant owners have taken in recent years: find a great chef and a great general manager, and let them build and lead their teams with a minimum of interference.
Chef Brett Fife, formerly of Lindey’s in German Village, built his team almost entirely from kitchen staff he had worked with in the past, ensuring a solid foundation from day one. “It’s like having my own restaurant, without having to put up the capital,” he said. “This is my style, elevated tavern food. The ideas are approachable, but there may be some unique ingredients involved.”
Building the front-of-house staff was a little harder. “Here in a small town, there are fewer applicants, and finding experience has been the biggest challenge,” General Manager Coty Gilchrist said. “I’ve focused on personality and character, something genuine, laid-back, and warm, and I’m happy with the team I have.”
This is a place that balances a modern, urban aesthetic and dining concept with small-Midwest-town friendliness. On the night of the Johnstown Santa parade, the restaurant was sufficiently busy, yet the customer service was warm and welcoming. Servers made a point to learn guests’ names. Strangers struck up conversations. I ordered a smashburger at the bar and talked for over half an hour with the mother of one of the bartenders, there for her fourth visit. “I’m working my way through the menu,” she joked. She’s not alone—Ghostwriter already has a good handful of regulars.
Their cocktail menu is straightforward, with a handful of seasonal specials. They don’t water down their drinks or shortchange you on the booze, either; the cocktails pack a delicious wallop.
The Blankemeyers are risk-takers, and their future plans are bold. “There’s lots of layers here,” Dennis admits. They plan to eventually use hardwood offcuts from their furniture manufacturing to fuel the restaurant’s grill works, for a true zero- waste manufacturing process. They also plan to create a sustainable farm on the land surrounding the manufacturing plant, growing their own vegetables and fruit trees, even livestock, eventually making the restaurant farm-to-table. It’s a perfect plan to grow their passion for hospitality.
Ghostwriter Public House is located at 491⁄2 Main Street in Johnstown. Learn more at ghostwriterph.com.