If you’re looking for ghost stories that will send a chill up your spine and home-cooked comfort food that will warm your belly, J&M’s West End Inn at 340 Union St. in Hamburg is a must-visit.
With Halloween approaching, haunted tales are drawing customers in, but the real treat is owner Dawn Kovach’s pumpkin martini. She and her husband John run the restaurant and catering services while their son Jack is chef and their daughter Holly helps with scheduling and social media.
Dawn’s parents ran a catering business for decades (that’s where J&M comes from.) The family just celebrated their 10th anniversary as owners this summer. I had the pleasure of tasting Dawn’s specialty martini while hearing ghost stories.
Q: First off, it’s almost Halloween so I have to ask about the haunted stories. Many people think Pearl, who lived, worked and died at the West End, is still around today. Could she be the ghost?
Kovach: Before us, the previous owners sent their dishwasher downstairs to go get something - he went down and came back asking, "Who’s the old lady down there doing laundry?" They were like, "What?" They pointed to Pearl’s picture and he said, "That’s her." They said, "She’s dead!" and he fainted! My workers tell me that about the basement, too. The building dates back to 1843.
Q: How have you modernized it while keeping the historic feel?
A: We revamped the banquet room and we did the dining room last year. We did all the woodwork, new chandeliers, updates and facelifts, but everything is still original.
Q: You have a large menu. Which section is most popular?
A: Our Comfort Corner is pretty popular with chicken pot pie, pot roast, meatloaf, turkey with stuffing. Everything is homemade and that attracts older people and then younger ones who won’t make it for themselves.
Q: Is there a popular drink this fall?
A: Pumpkin martinis – I’m the queen bee of that – I do a pumpkin spice, whipped cream vodka, RumChata - I add an extra touch of this and that. We also have 18 taps with 18 different beers. Those get changed out seasonally and some we keep on all year.
Q: Do you draw customers from across the area?
A: We get them from all over – people from West Seneca, Cheektowaga, Dunkirk - mainly for my fish fries on Friday. They’re popular. We serve macaroni, coleslaw, lazy pierogi and fries so you’re getting four sides plus the piece of fish.
Q: Why do people choose to celebrate holidays with you?
A: We do a nice Thanksgiving buffet and Easter, Mother’s Day, holidays – there’s a large turnout for buffets. I’m Polish so we do Dyngus Day and no one else has that in Hamburg. I’ve been doing that since we opened and every year it gets bigger and bigger. They consume the whole place, banquet room and all.
Q: Do you have any more ghost tales?
A: A server and customers saw silverware and salt shakers fly off the table. The waitress picked it up and it flew off again. I’ve had people tell me there’s a man sitting outside on a chair waiting to go in and then they turn around and he’s gone. A psychic told my husband a dog is upstairs. Some people hear the dog running and barking.
Q: Have you personally encountered any ghosts?
A: I truly have never encountered anything, but my employees have. Nothing bothers me. They must know better than to mess with me! It’s a friendly, casual atmosphere.