Opening a restaurant is not for the faint of heart. The Funk brothers can attest to that, as their latest venture, Per Diem, which is located at Hotel Rock Lititz, recently passed the six-month mark. “We’ve spent that time getting our feet under us,” says Josh Funk. Now, with the staff established and positive feedback coming from guests, he feels it’s time to get those feet moving!
Terrifying, fun, challenging. Those are words Josh uses to describe the thrill ride he and his brother, Jake, have been on since they purchased their first restaurant six years ago. While they have each other’s backs, they also credit Lancaster for their on-going success. Annie Bailey’s Irish Public House continues to be a hallmark of the downtown Lancaster dining scene, while Per Diem in Lititz is attracting foodies who like dinner with a side of rock ‘n’ roll. “The Lititz community has really come out to support us,” Josh says.
It’s a Family Affair
Anyone who frequents the eateries in downtown Lancaster knows who the Funk brothers are. They’ve owned the legendary Annie Bailey’s Public House since 2013. But, long before that, they were an inseparable twosome. The brothers grew up in a farmhouse off Koser Road that was surrounded by other farms. “Probably where Stonehenge now stands,” Josh says, pinpointing the location.
The two shared a passion for wrestling, thanks to their father, who was a coach at McCaskey for 18 years. The basement of their home was even outfitted with reconditioned wrestling mats. The boys stenciled them with the legend, TFB, which, of course, stood for The Funk Brothers.
When they weren’t wrestling, the Funk brothers were looking for ways to earn money. Their resumés include cutting lawns, harvesting tobacco, painting warehouses and the list goes on. “We were Township boys, but we were blue-collar,” Jake explained to Michael Upton, who profiled the brothers for this magazine in 2014. “If we really wanted it, we had to pay for it,” Josh added. “Those years of working hard and having our own money got us to where we are today.”
Their first introduction to the restaurant industry came courtesy of Susie Armstrong, who owns O’Halloran’s Irish Pub & Eatery and gave Josh and Jake jobs there when they were high school students. Their step-mother, who was legendary for her Sunday dinners and parties, also influenced the brothers. It turned out the restaurant industry was “who we were without us knowing it,” Josh remarks.
Be True to Your School
Two years separate the brothers in age. Josh was the first to attend college. His mother, who is a nurse, influenced his direction in life, as he started college at Penn State wanting to become a doctor. He soon realized medicine wasn’t for him. An introductory hospitality course put him on a new path. He became a Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management major. He also discovered he was a numbers man. As Robert Irvine always decrees on Restaurant
Impossible, if you don’t know the numbers – how much is coming in and how much is going out – you will not succeed. Josh enjoys the challenge of making the numbers work and says, “Just when you think you have it figured out, the bullseye moves!” His gift of gab – “I can talk nonstop!” he laughs – also made a front-of-the-house position his destiny.
Two years later, Jake followed in his brother’s footsteps and headed for Penn State. He, too, majored in Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management. Jake’s personality drew him to the back of the house. While he’s not a classically trained chef, Jake knows his way around a kitchen. His strengths lie in leading the staff during crunch time, being a stickler for food safety, and helping to develop menus that reflect the trends that guests see on television, online and in magazines. Both are people persons but with different approaches.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
After graduating, the brothers went their separate ways for the first time in their lives. Josh headed for Washington, D.C., where he eventually became the evening manager at the National Press Club, which is regarded as the epicenter for journalists and communications professionals. It boasts more than 3,500 members and each year hosts 250,000 visitors and 2,000 events. “I loved D.C.,” he says.
Jake, meanwhile, landed in Chicago, where he went to work for the Pappas Restaurant Group. A promotion took him to Atlanta. “It wasn’t anything for him to oversee 240 employees,” Josh notes. While bigger things loomed for them in their respective careers, they dreamed of combining forces to operate their own restaurant.
When the owners of Annie Bailey’s decided to pursue other ventures after operating the Irish pub for seven years, Josh and Jake saw it as an opportunity that would allow them to return home and become part of downtown Lancaster’s revitalization efforts. In 2013, Annie Bailey’s became the flagship of TFB Restaurants & Co. “We look at Annie Bailey’s as being our first baby,” Josh says of the cornerstone of what might be defined as Lancaster’s “restaurant row” that stretches along the first block of East King Street.
Annie Bailey’s launched other opportunities, including catering and consulting. Enter Shaun Clair of Clair Global, one of the 30 companies that supports all facets of the live-event industry through Rock Lititz, the 96-acre, state-of-the-art facility that is located on the northern edge of Lititz. In developing Rock Lititz, it became evident that providing clients with a dining venue on campus would be a critical component of the amenities that would be offered. The fact that Shaun and Josh were fraternity brothers at Penn State provided a natural connection. “I think they approached me because of my Press Club experience,” he explains. “They knew I wouldn’t be starstruck by high-profile clients.” The collaboration began with him acting as a consultant for the design of a kitchen.
Before he knew it, the idea of a cafeteria-style eatery materialized. Called Gravie Kitchen + Commons, it was perceived as a casual place where clients and visitors could “eat, meet, caffeinate and concentrate.” The menu features a revolving selection of lunch items, as well as weekly features such as Taco Tuesday and Smashburger Friday. Hours are 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Friday.
TFB Catering was also called upon to provide food to the studios when they are in use, as well as for private events clients could host. “It was a whirlwind two years,” Josh states.
Another amenity that was on the drawing board was a hotel. Open since last November, Hotel Rock Lititz features 139 guest rooms, including two luxury penthouse suites with private elevator access. The property is owned by ARC One Lititz Partners, LP; it is operated by As One Management. The hotel’s connection to the live-event touring industry is carried out through the decor in both the guest and common areas.
TFB seamlessly made the transition as the management team for the restaurant that would be part of the hotel. They were also charged with providing guests with room service. TFB also provides the catering for weddings and other special events that take place at the hotel.
In designing the restaurant, Josh and Jake wanted to deviate somewhat from the rock ‘n’ roll vibe and, in a way, pay homage to their own roots. “Urban farmhouse with a touch of elegance,” is the way Josh describes their vision.
They worked with interior designers Stephanie Kicera, who was involved in other aspects of Rock Lititz, and Julie Miskelley to achieve the look the Funks envisioned. The white-and-black color scheme comes alive with greenery (via plants and a unique moss/succulent wall) and copper tones that define the lighting fixtures and bar.
Another nod to “green” is seen through the custom, live-edge black walnut table tops that were crafted by local craftsmen James Michaud and Dwayne Chenney. The style of the chairs is reminiscent of the iconic furnishings that once defined Lancaster County farmhouse kitchens. The white finish delivers a modern update.
The compressed hardwood floor is an Armstrong prototype. “It was used here for the first time anywhere,” Josh points out, adding, “We worked with a lot of local vendors and craftspeople.” While the overall design echoes Lancaster County, there is a subtle hint of rock ‘n’ roll. “I needed some art for a wall, and someone showed me a box of profit and loss statements from concerts,” Josh explains. “We framed them and hung them on the wall. They’re perfect!”
The Funks are thrilled with the results. The restaurant exudes a sense of hominess with an edge. “It was a collaborative effort,” Josh says. “Stephanie and Julie are very talented; plus, they really listened to what we had to say.”
The Name Game
Arriving at a name for a restaurant can be daunting. You have just one chance to make an impression and create a buzz. A name has to convey what the restaurant embodies in just a few words. Josh arrived at the word Coda, which, in music, is an independent passage at the end of a composition that’s intended to bring the piece to a satisfying close. Sort of the way dessert or a brandy makes you feel at the conclusion of dinner. He shared it with Troy Clair, who wasn’t crazy about the name. It seemed CODA is Rock Lititz’s major competition in Europe. Scratch Coda.
Other people offered suggestions. Focus groups were even held. TAIT’s Adam Davis sat with roadies to gain insight on what they perceived to be a thoughtful name. “Someone said, ‘I know what it should be – per diem,’” Josh recalls. Per diem, of course, refers to a roadie’s daily allowance for living expenses. “Adam’s eyes lit up,” Josh continues. “It was definitely the right choice for a name.”
Support Your Local …
With the décor inspired by Lancaster’s iconic farmhouses, it only made sense that the menu would celebrate the farm-to-table movement. From the beginning, the Funks were anxious to utilize the talents and products of Lititz-area farmers, as well as food and beverage purveyors. They include Rooster Street Butcher, The Field’s Edge Research Farm, Caputo Brothers Creamery, Barr’s Farm Produce, Meck’s Produce, Brogue Hydroponics, Shenk’s Poultry, Olio Olive Oils & Balsamics, Fox Meadows Creamery and Stoll & Wolfe Distillery. “As we grow, we hope to add more to the roster,” Josh explains.
Josh is excited about his team in the kitchen that is led by Executive Chef Anastasio Santos. Complementing him is Executive Sous Chef Brent Eckert, who joined the staff over the summer, and Pastry Chef Lydia Thompson, whose trademark cookie sandwich and pizza dough are garnering rave reviews. “The kitchen is gelling,” he remarks. “We have a great staff of amazing people. They are committed and love what they do. Interesting dishes are being created.”
While summer menus featured seafood and fresh flavors from area farms, the fall and winter menus will emphasize heartier fare. Attention is also being paid to those who lead gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and keto lifestyles. “People are looking for healthy alternatives in restaurants,” Josh explains. “Their needs can’t be treated as after-thoughts on a menu. You don’t want anyone to feel excluded.” Both Gravie and Per Diem take that sentiment into consideration and provide guests with options that fit their needs. “Guests love our vegan burger and Brussels sprouts,” he notes.
Welcome to the Future
The Funks are excited by what the future holds. They’ve been steadily introducing new elements that have been well received. The Sunday Brunch features the Bloody Mary bar. Happy Hour (4-6 p.m., Monday-Friday) is popular with locals and guests alike. The Friday Night Music Series presents everything from Americana to jazz.
Over the summer, they partnered with Penn Stone to have pizza parties on the patio and hope to soon have their own wood-fired oven on the premises. Josh would also like to see Per Diem host a bona fide farm-to-table dinner on an annual basis. “We have so many ideas,” he says. “It’s hard not to get ahead of ourselves.”
The fall menu will make its debut next month. Fall will also signal the return of the bar’s Smoky Old Fashioned (its popularity made Per Diem the No. 1 seller of Jameson Black Barrel whiskey in the state last year). New wine selections are also in the forecast. And, Josh is excited that Per Diem will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Washingtonian magazine.
Per Diem is located at Hotel Rock Lititz. Sunday Brunch is available 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Breakfast is served Monday-Saturday, 7-10:30 a.m. Dinner hours are daily, 4-10 p.m. The bar is open Sunday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m.-12 a.m. 50 Rock Lititz Blvd. Call 717-500-3436 or visit perdiemlititz.com.