NEW PHILADELPHIA (WJER) (July 24, 2023) – The owner of Uncle Primo’s says after hardships started piling up, it became apparent last week it was time for her to close the popular restaurant.
Deb DeRing Heifner says her husband, Bob Heifner, was the real Uncle Primo who opened the eatery in 1990, specializing in steaks, seafood, and Italian cuisine.
“He’s the one that built the business up. He’s the one that came up with so many of the recipes years ago, and people were so surprised that I kept it going, but I wanted to keep it going for him.”
She has run the business since his death in 2019, but it has been a “nightmare” to keep the place staffed through the COVID pandemic and workplace issues.
DeRing Heifner says she and General Manager Lori Beitzel were praying about the future of Uncle Primo’s Friday morning and had already been considering closing soon.
Then the grill broke that afternoon.
“I looked at her and I said, ‘I think this is God’s gift to us.’ He’s telling us, ‘Quit screwing around and do it.’”
She says they told the employees that night that Saturday would be Uncle Primo’s last day. Then on Saturday, an employee got burned and went to the hospital.
“Honestly things like that have been going on for so long. We can’t deal with it anymore. This is not what my husband wanted me to go through.”
“I’m exhausted. Absolutely [that’s what it] boils down to. Lori and I are both exhausted. You know what the workforce is like right now… and God love my general manager, who has worked so many hours trying to fill in spots, and we’re both just exhausted.”
She says hundreds of people have reached out expressing gratitude and sharing their memories since she announced online Saturday night was their last night of operation.
“I’m just overwhelmed with the love I’m feeling and the kindness from everybody. I knew people liked us, but I really didn’t realize it was to the scale. I really didn’t. It’s unreal.”
DeRing Heifner plans to sell the business, which could include their famous recipes for salad dressing, lasagna and more.
“They’re all here. We’re not offering it to anybody. I want to wait to see who buys it first and see if they want the recipes.”
“And if it would come back as Uncle Primo’s, that would be amazing. Just amazing, because it is a staple in the community. It’s a mom-and-pop shop and we survived more than 30 years.”
She says her general manager other staff members have gotten calls about other job opportunities.
DeRing Heifner, who is 71, says she’d like to get some sleep before making plans for her future.