Pandemic Sustenance

Elk Creek Café survived the past 18 months by finding new ways to serve its loyal customers.

Tim Bowser and Tim Yarrington

What got you through the pandemic? I’m sure there are as many answers to that question as there are people reading this, and I ask it mindful that none of us is entirely “through” this just yet. Still, I’m conscious of trying to appreciate the things—family viewings of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Dua Lipa singalongs with my daughter, the teetering stack of books I’ve ordered over the past 18 months—that have helped keep me sane.

Food and drink helped, too, none more than the locally produced fare at Elk Creek Café + Aleworks, which anchors the one-stoplight town of Millheim, 30 minutes east of State College. (The round trip on Route 45 inevitably includes passing an Amish buggy or two.) Proprietor Tim Bowser ’80 Lib (above, right) is a legend in local food circles—he was the founding executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture—who opened Elk Creek in 2007 as a gathering place for Penns Valley locals, a showcase for the rich bounty of the valley’s farmers, and an unlikely hotspot for both local and touring musical acts.

They also make terrific beer, thanks to Tim Yarrington ’89 Agr, Elk Creek’s founding brewer and the guy behind such signature libations as Poe Paddy Porter and Double Rainbow IPA. Yarrington (above, left) still oversees the brewing operation at Elk Creek, but in 2017, he joined the faculty at Pennsylvania College of Technology to establish the brewing and fermentation program at the Penn State affiliate. The program now offers a one-year certificate that prepares students for “a sustainable career within the brewing industry.”

What does all this have to do with the pandemic? Like so many small businesses in the face of widespread shutdowns, Elk Creek had to adapt to survive. Last summer, Bowser opened “Elk Creekside” just across the road from the restaurant, setting up a tented stage, Oktoberfest tables, and food and beer service on the Millheim Fire Company fairgrounds—the perfect venue for live music on a summer afternoon. He also created an online ordering service and started sending a van packed with hot food and cold beer to State College for weekly deliveries, which is how my family got to enjoy Elk Creek at home nearly every Friday night for the better part of a year.

If I gained a few pounds during the pandemic, I think I know who to blame.

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Ryan Jones '95 Com | Editor | Twitter: @RJPennStater