PERU - When Paula Nephew and her husband, Dick, opened the doors of Cricket's Restaurant in the fall of 1999, little did they know 10 years later they'd be more than a business, they'd be an important part of the community.
"We purchased the property in October that year and opened the 15th of November," recalled Paula Nephew. "It all happened so fast."
Nephew said she and her husband, each of whom had backgrounds in the restaurant industry prior to opening Cricket's, opened the business after another restaurant at the Bear Swamp Road location had closed its doors.
"We needed a place to dine," she said. "The restaurant had closed and the opportunity came up and we jumped on it."
The venture involved remodeling the building, receiving their liquor license and putting together a diverse menu they thought customers would enjoy, said Nephew.
"What's nice about our menu is it isn't just Italian, it isn't just French cuisine. It's a little bit of everything," said Nephew. "Someone could come in and have a pizza and someone could come in and have surf and turf, all at the same table. So, there's something for everyone."
When the national economy began seeing signs of distress last year, Nephew said she didn't know what to expect. However, by offering a menu where a family of four can dine for less than $20, Cricket's has been able to avoid feeling the pinch some businesses have seen in the recession.
"We really haven't seen that many effects [from the recession]," said Nephew. "I think that's because we're so diverse in what we offer and because we make it affordable enough for families to be able to go out once a week or once a month without having to bring their entire savings for dining."
Having nightly specials - like ones for senior citizens Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays - has also helped business, Nephew said.
"Seniors can get an all-inclusive meal on those days that has a smaller portion, but comes with a beverage and our dessert of the day. It's just enough for them but they get everything, and it's affordable," said Nephew.
And, offering a children's menu that has staples like hamburgers and macaroni and cheese, makes a difference, Nephew added.
"You've got to have mac and cheese on the menu. You just have to," she said with a laugh.
What's also helped Cricket's become a mainstay in the community has been its banquet room. The ability to accommodate large parties and host receptions has drawn people from not only Peru, but other communities as well, said Nephew.
"We host banquets for places like CV-Tec and most of the local credit unions," said Nephew. "December is also our busiest month because of the holiday gatherings, office parties, traditional family dinners we do. There's always something going on in the banquet room."
Though having the right facility and the right menu makes up for a good portion of drawing customers, said Nephew, it's developing strong bonds with them that creates repeat business.
"We have some customers that, when they come in, they have to sit at a certain booth and if it's not available, they wait," Nephew said with a smile. "We have a tremendous amount of customers who've really become our friends. And, with some of them it feels like they're part of our family now."
Terry and Shawn Lydamore of Lewis have been coming to Cricket's since the business opened and said it's been the friendly faces and inviting atmosphere that has kept them coming back ever since.
"When you come here, you feel like you're at home," said Shawn Lydamore, as she and her husband attended an anniversary party for Cricket's Nov. 15.
"It's not like a franchise," added her husband. "They're fantastic people and they do all sorts of things for the community."
Nephew said she feels giving back to the community - whether it's purchasing equipment for the Peru Central School District, sponsoring local sports teams or collecting donations for the local food shelf - only makes sense.
"It's important to us, because without them, without our customers, we wouldn't have a business," said Nephew.
That sense of community is what draws customers like the Lydamores back to a business they say is more than the typical chain restaurant.
"They're good people and, more important, they're good friends," said Shawn Lydamore.
What's next for Cricket's? Nephew said the business will begin catering for Harmony Golf Course in Port Kent next year.
"The purveyors of the golf course, who are friends of ours, approached us about the idea and we felt the timing was just right," said Nephew. "We've wanted to get into catering and this was a great way to start. We've already got two weddings booked there. We're excited."
Nephew said she doesn't know what else is in store for the next 10 years, but said she plans to continue offering Cricket's patrons the same friendly service and affordable dining they've grown accustomed to and plans on making more friends.
"We're just going to continue doing what we're doing," said Nephew. "Hopefully we're here for a long, long time."