An iconic roadside eatery is reopening after being shuttered for more than two years during the pandemic.

The Cadet Restaurant, known for its hearty down-home diner fare and cowboy mascot “Sam” – a 30-foot-tall statue seen holding a giant hamburger along Route 422 near Kittanning – will welcome diners today.

Sam, featured in the book “Roadside Giants,” was purchased in Chicago for $ 3,200.

Outgoing owners George Morda, 91, and his wife Mimi, 73, of Manor Township, ran the popular diner since 1952.

Originally called The Owl’s Nest, the restaurant started out as a small drive-in restaurant – the first of its kind in the area.

Serving classic American-style cuisine, the vibe is nostalgic and leaves one reminiscent of the days of car hops and muscle cars.

The roadside staple has welcomed patrons for decades. The Mordas have decided to retire and gave their blessing to a new family – the Robeys.

Incoming owner Melanie Robey, 49, formerly of Glenshaw, said a random drive-by along Route 422 led to what she calls “divine intervention” for her new business venture.

“I had lost my job during covid and I was depressed, and me and my children wanted to move to the country,” Robey said. “I saw Sam and got emotional. I told my family this is our restaurant. “

Robey recalled that, at the time, her children chuckled and didn’t take her seriously.

Robey said she was looking to buy a food truck and start a new career for herself and wanted a “complete change.”

So, The Cadet became her family’s new adventure.

The family relocated from Glenshaw to East Franklin.

After seeing Sam on her road trip, Robey said she looked up Morda’s contact information on the Cadet’s website and asked him if she could have a job at The Cadet.

And the rest sort of just fell into place, Robey said.

“I’m overwhelmed. Our souls called each other and he was looking for someone to open his baby back up, ”Robey said. “We cleaned the whole restaurant but basically kept everything the same – the customers want it that way.”

Robey is renting to own and said she expects to officially take over ownership within a year.

“It means the world to us. I’m going to cry. We’re happy because it’s going to a good family and they’re hard workers, ”said Mimi Morda of her impending retirement.

The Mordas are helping the Robeys settle in to their new role as restaurateurs.

“I’m so glad to get rid of it,” joked George. “I’m done. I’m old enough that I can’t do it anymore and I’m glad someone else is taking over. I wanted to get a good family and they’re a good family. “

Robey said she’s excited to bring back the signature Cadet dish, The Poorboy Sandwich, piled high with two quarter-pound burgers, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo.

“It’s the same menu except we raised the prices a little. We wanted it to stay the same diner, ”Robey said.

Another must-keep item the Robey’s left untouched is a sign hung inside the main dining room by George, bearing the Cadet’s motto: “Enter as strangers / Leave as friends.”

“George is a part of this restaurant, that’s staying,” Robey said.

Robey said several of her children and relatives are involved in the new venture.

Longtime Cadet employee Laura Dinger, 41, began working at The Cadet when she was 16 years old.

She began washing dishes, moved up to waitress and now serves as aconsultant for the Robeys.

Dinger, of Kittanning Township, returns today working both the front and back of the house in whatever capacity is most needed.

“It’s just like home again,” Dinger said. “It’s sentimental.”

George Morda, originally from Ford City, served in the Army for more than a decade and worked as a crane operator at PPG.

Morda was one of seven children and grew up on a farm.

“I quit PPG – told them I was gonna go open up my restaurant,” Morda recalled.

Morda said he’s looking forward to retirement and, as he reflected back on 70 years of Cadet ownership, said he never doubted his eatery would survive.

“Absolutely. I haven’t failed at anything yet, ”said Morda.

The Cadet is open daily from 9 am to 2 pm and is located at 13514 Route 422 just outside Kittanning.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce at 724-226-7725, jhanz@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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