After more than three decades of owning and operating the popular Franz’s Tavern & Restaurant, which can trace its roots to the 19th century, Todd and Belinda Kenee have put the neighborhood eatery on the market.
The couple cited workforce and health problems as major reasons for the decision.
Todd, 59, told LebTown that ongoing health issues are slowing him down.
“I just can’t do it,” he said. None of their children are in the business, and “it’s time to turn it over to a younger person.”
His wife added, “We can’t get staffing.” At their age, the Kenees should be managing the restaurant, but instead they’re overstretched.
“It’s just been very hard,” she said, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kenees invested in a major remodel to brighten up the tavern when Franz’s was closed due to the pandemic, including new floors, a new bar and new bathrooms.
Belinda said the establishment draws regular crowds on certain days of the week. “They don’t want to see us go.”
“The old saying ‘location, location, location’ is not a joke,” Todd told LebTown’s Jeff Falk in a November 2020 article, “Almost everybody who lives in Lebanon County has at least driven by here. I also think it’s a generational thing. People just keep coming back.”
Named for previous proprietor Francis Gerhart, Franz’s Tavern features an eclectic menu, Todd said, from international foods to its extremely popular backfin crabcakes, which are advertised as “best in the county.”
He told Falk, “I think the key to our success is the consistency of the food product. People want to feel at home. They don’t like change. They want to see a crabcake, a big hamburger or a big cheesesteak, things they’re accustomed to, on the menu.
“It’s a good tightrope walk of consistency and variety. We’re all Pennsylvania Dutch here, and we’ve all grown up with Lebanon bologna and potpie. And we’re close enough to the Jersey shore to want clam chowder or a crabcake, now and then.”
A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Todd served as executive chef at Williamsport Country Club and sous chef at Lancaster Country Club before opening the restaurant in 1998.
The current building dates from 1846, he said, and has been a tavern and sometime post office for over 100 years.
Belinda joked that the spirit of Francis Gerhart makes her presence felt. “She likes to play tricks on us.”
The Kenees are selling the 1.9-acre property (which also includes a two-bedroom, one-bath second-floor apartment and third-floor storage), the building’s contents and the liquor license; listing price is $649,900.
They said they hope it stays as a country tavern, but that is up to the new owner.
Todd said he and Belinda know that finding a buyer might take a while. “It’s a big investment, a big responsibility.”
According to the real estate listing for Franz’s Tavern (motto: “cold beer … pretty good food”), this is an “amazing opportunity to own one of South Lebanon’s most cherished and renowned tavern(s) and restaurant(s) sitting in a beautiful private rural setting while offering city living! … Superb location offering excellent visibility situated directly across from the quiet and highly sought-after beautiful Valley Chase and Meadows Southfield neighborhoods.”
Aaron Quintana of the Joy Daniels Real Estate Group, listing agent for the property, said the historic building “is in great shape.”
A neighborhood staple, Franz’s Tavern is “a very popular place, a very busy place” with lots of regular customers, he said.
“We’ve been a fixture for so long,” Todd said. “We’re part of the community.”
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