By Alicia Dziak
Traveling east from Ellicottville and south from Springville, where Routes 240 and 242 and also two sets of train tracks meet, it’s hard to believe this quiet little intersection of Ashford Junction was once a highly-populated area of Ellicottville. In the late 1800s, the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway (BR&P) built a passenger stop in Ashford Junction, and businesses began to sprout up around it. Passengers making the trip from one major city to the next would often stop there to shop or eat, and it filled with stores, hotels and restaurants. As the years went by, and railroads became less necessary for travel, the area saw a decline in population, and it slowly morphed into what it is today—a cozy corner of Cattaraugus County.
Today, one thing that still reminds us of days gone by is the Ashford Junction Diner, a quaint little restaurant that sits across from the tracks and will have you feeling nostalgic. The diner, which is attached to the Ellicottville Country Store, has been a store since the turn of the last century. It was also at one time a Harley-Davidson garage. And while the restaurant and building are steeped in history, current owners Jay and Peggy LaCroix are new to the business, proudly getting ready to celebrate their first anniversary.
The LaCroixs, who said they “live two minutes” away, discovered the opportunity when driving by en route to a school sports banquet for their son. While Peggy was a social worker, and Jay a painter, both were looking for a change. “We were both ready to do something different,” Jay said.
That something different involved carrying on the tradition of the little restaurant in Ashford Junction. Soon, the LaCroixs found themselves using their relevant experience (Jay noted that his father was a food service manager at Holiday Valley, and that he grew up in the business) and re-opened the restaurant, which had been closed for a couple months in late 2016 when it was between owners. They decided to name it Ashford Junction Diner because of its location and because they both had family history rooted in the railroads, discovering through reading material that both their grandfathers and great grandfathers actually worked together in Ashford Junction on the railroad and at the Switch Tower that still remains across from the diner.
The newly-opened and newly-renamed diner quickly became a hot spot for breakfast and lunch, which, according to the LaCroixs, are both served from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. when the restaurant is open Wednesday through Sundays. That means you don’t have to rush out of the house in the morning to make it in time for breakfast!
On the tables, guests can find history books about the railroads, Ashford Junction and other nearby areas. “We want people to know the whole history,” said Jay.
Jay and Peggy work together in the kitchen and in the dining room, and their teenage kids even chip in on the weekends, making it a true family business.
The atmosphere is one geared toward comfort and family. “It feels like one big kitchen, and everyone feels at home,” explained Jay.
Peggy added that she thinks the diner promotes the lost art of conversation. “Everyone shares stories,” she said, adding that there are even a number of board games, like Shut the Box, to encourage families to spend quality time together and to unplug from their phones.
While the diner offers many traditional menu items, they also offer some unique eats. “Our top seller as of late has been our Reuben Omelet,” Peggy said. “At first we were skeptical, but people seem to love it. Served with rye toast and a kicked up Thousand Island on the side, people love it! The second (most popular) is the Sweet and Salty, a large croissant stuffed with a folded egg, bacon and Swiss, then drizzled with a homemade maple glaze—a splash of bacon bits makes a surprisingly great dish! People love Evelyn’s Oatmeal and The Gian which is made with our homemade corned beef hash, sausage gravy and biscuits.”
The LaCroixs also recently introduced their “LaCroixant”— pressed croissants filled with a variety of deliciousness, such as spinach, feta and egg, or mac and cheese and tomato.
“As far as specials, I never know what we’ll come up with. If it pops into my head we’ll make it,” Peggy noted. “Since we serve a majority of breakfast, we have a menu for the table. As for our lunch menu, it is an open made to order menu for patrons to make up what they want. We have a loyal customer from Buffalo and his sandwich creation became so popular we have it on the board as The Michael. So who knows? Someone else could be up there!”
Peggy added that they also offer a limited kids’ menu.
In addition to their impressive breakfast and lunch menu, the LaCroixs are bringing back their Friday Fish Fry starting on their one-year anniversary, Friday, Dec. 15. The fish frys, which were offered last spring during Lent, include Yuengling-battered or broiled fish with a choice of salt potatoes or homemade mac and cheese, cole slaw and a roll. They will be available take out or dine-in until 8 p.m. on Fridays throughout the winter and early spring.
And as for year No. 2 in business? “We are looking forward to seeing our business grow in 2018 simply by offering a great dining experience for all those who visit!” said Peggy. “So far, according to social media sites like Yelp, and Trip Advisor, we have 4.5-5 stars! We want to keep that reputation so keeping up on what we’re doing by being able to offer more than just a dining experience. Having the antique and gift shop connected on the opposite side is definitely a plus especially when it’s busy! We don’t feel rushed and the customer gets more time to relax and enjoy themselves while preparing their meal. It’s a win-win!”
Also, something for visitors to keep in mind, which is also on a hand written sign hanging inside the diner, Peggy said: “We don’t have a fast cook…we don’t have a slow cook…we have a half-fast cook! Jay takes pride in his cooking so don’t expect a fast food experience.”
“We just want to give visitors a piece of history and a fun way to begin or end the weekend here,” Jay said. “We want to make everyone feel at home!”
The Ashford Junction Diner is located just minutes from the heart of Ellicottville, and a short drive from Springville, at 5364 Route 242 in Ellicottville. (Heading out of Ellicottville, it’s just past Robbins Road, where the Ellicottville Distillery is located.) There is plenty of parking both in front and in back. For more info, visit their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Ashford-Junction-Diner-252763911820967/) or call 699-6100.