FREEPORT – When Christina and Roger Gilpin started making weekend trips to Freeport, they never imagined that they would one day own an old high school turned bar and catering service.
With their daughter, Christie Bobbitt by their side, they run The Old Schoolhouse Bar and Catering.
Working with family can be either the best or worst thing for a business and the Gilpin/Bobbitt trio make it work.
“It’s been fun,” Christina said. “I’m not gonna say it’s been all fun and games but it’s been fun.” Due to their similar names, Christie suggested that Christina go by “Mom” at the bar.
“It stuck,” Christina said. “I even have people my age that call me ‘Mom.’”
Christina was a librarian for much of her life and met Roger in high school. From high school sweethearts to over 50 years of marriage and owning a restaurant, they have been in the area for most of their lives now.
Before the restaurant, Roger was Dean of Math and Science at Wright State University and before that he was chair of the chemistry department at Kent State University. He also worked in water testing and The Old Schoolhouse still had a lot of testing equipment in one of the areas of the building. Though it is not used much now, he used to host EPA classes and classes for continuing education for wastewater management personnel which requires recertification.
When they first bought the building, Roger did a lot of the needed construction himself; putting in walls and transforming what was the library into the bar.
Their late son, RJ, was a great chef and had a dream to open a restaurant of his own. Together, the family made that a reality in honor of his memory.
“He really wanted to bring something to this area,” Christie said.
She said that there are good restaurants in Freeport but the difference is between a good restaurant that serves good beer, and a good bar that serves good food. The Old Schoolhouse is the latter, taking beer seriously with 19 on tap, quite the selection for the area. They still have some classic cans and bottles available like Bud Light and Budweiser, but believe the tap provides a much fresher drinking experience.
Roger has traveled extensively to build the selection and he’s tasted every one.
“He doesn’t like certain types of beer but he tastes them anyway,” Christina said. “If I can’t, or he can’t tell somebody what it’s like, it’s hard for them to decide ‘do I want it?’”
This customer-centered attitude is evident through every aspect of the business.
Even the menu includes an item designed by a regular customer: Tim’s Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. A few other standouts are the pulled pork sandwich, as well as a made from scratch sloppy joe and a Thai-Curry chicken sandwich that Roger developed the recipe for himself.
“He chemisted up some really good Thai-Curry sauce,” Christie joked.
To offset rising food costs, a few items are only available on certain days. Wings are always popular for bars and the oil cost has been skyrocketing. Instead of raising prices, The Old Schoolhouse offers them only on Thursday nights. Customers are able to enjoy them without having to foot a higher bill.
Community outreach is important to all of them. Many of their regular customers travel to visit and the bar is a gathering place where people make friends and connections they never would have expected.
In the local community, they help out with the fireman’s festival and sportsman club fishing tournaments, as well as being open to hosting community events like car shows. They reach beyond the area as well, helping out customers’ local communities. There are a lot of people who come down from Canton and the Gilpin’s supported a half marathon that raised money and awareness for human trafficking.
“They do a lot to reach out and support the community in various ways,” Christie said. “To not only the local community but communities where our customer base comes from.”
They’re also participating in a charity poker run.
The building sits back from the road and has a good outside area of space that has been approved for events. With 30,000-square feet available, a car show was no problem to host and customers can enjoy being outside with a cold beer.
They also have an indoor area that was once the school cafeteria where they can easily host birthday parties, showers, and other get-togethers. They hope to someday renovate the gym to rent out for similar activities.
Christina said she wants her community to know that, “We’re here to serve them and to help when we can. We like our community, we like Freeport.”
They’ve been strong members of the community and are always willing to lend a helping hand when possible.