NEWTOWN >> The hostess at Charlotte’s in Newtown Square is all smiles as she leads diners to an available table in the restaurant’s elegant dining room. If they are some of the regular customers, whom she knows by name or facial recognition, she may ask them how their children or parents are doing or if they enjoyed their recent vacation. To other customers, she may comment on the weather or she may recommend a popular specialty dish about which many customers have been raving.
Dressed impeccably from head to toe, Bessie Satir should know a thing or two about being a professional hostess. The 88-year-old aunt of owners Chris and Jimmy Costalas has been taking reservations and leading Charlotte’s patrons to their seats since 1981, when she first came to work for her brother-in-law, Gus Costalas, the current owners’ father.
“I’ve enjoyed working here since the very first day I started,” the octogenarian shared. “The customers have always been so nice here. It’s a family oriented restaurant. That’s what sets Charlotte’s apart from many of the others. I have come to know four generations of some families. Customers come back over and over. One lady came in just this week to celebrate her 94th birthday. She has been coming here for years and said there is nowhere else where she would want to celebrate the milestone birthday but here.”
It’s the family aspect that makes Satir still want to work two or three days a week when others her age have long been fully retired. She said she likes helping out Gus’s two sons, Jimmy, who is her godson, and nephew Chris, his brother. The brothers also own the Country Squire Diner just down the road.
“They know they can trust me and that I’ll do a good job,” she winked.
Satir moved to Newtown Square in 1970 and still lives there today. She raised two sons and a daughter and is now, by her own description, a very proud great-grandmother. She remembers when her own son also worked at the restaurant. Charlotte’s was a lively place back then, she said. Employees dressed up for Halloween and other occasions. There were always a ton of people at the restaurant, she stated, a perfect place for a “people person” like herself.
“My son, John Satir, worked here with Gus when it first opened,” she remembered. “He used to go to pick-up customers who were unable to drive or didn’t have a car to get here.”
Satir described many differences between what the restaurant “biz” is like now compared to how it was a few decades ago. When she started her position, there used to be three to four hostesses at a time. They would work both sides of the restaurant, because they would have to write everything, from reservations to receipts, in longhand.
“There were no computers back then,” Satir remembered. “We had to write everything down in the good, old-fashioned way with pen and paper. Computers really changed our jobs and the way the restaurant operates, but we always had prompt, friendly service, then and now.”
Today, Charlotte’s is known for its Victorian grace and charm, consistently good food, warm, soft ambience and welcoming feel. Charlotte’s has been a community landmark on West Chester Pike for decades. The menu is large and, according to Satir, customers like that the soup and salad are included with their entrée, unlike the chain restaurants of today. Coffee or tea and other extras are also included in the lunch specials. Asked what her own favorite foods on the Charlotte’s menu happen to be, she pondered only a few minutes before quickly answering, “Salmon, the corned beef special, ravioli and a roast beef sandwich.”
“My Aunt Bessie really makes me enjoy coming to work every day,” owner Jimmy Costalas remarked. “I never cease to be amazed by all she does. She decorates our place inside for all the holidays and knows the customers and their families almost as well as she knows her own family!”
Satir said she enjoys the decorating aspect of her job. With Mother’s Day recently passing, the restaurant is still in mother-mode, with decorations of pink and white tulle and lace. In her decorating themes, she uses Charlotte’s Austrian crystal and other personal artifacts and pieces, things Charlotte had collected from her travels around the world.
“I was lucky enough to know Charlotte,” Satir explained. “She was a very nice person, always welcoming everyone into her home. She always wanted to give you something and feed you, and Gus was the exact same way.”
Charlotte’s location has a long and varied history. Back in the day, the property served as a stop on the stagecoach route from Philadelphia to Valley Forge. It was later a part of the Underground Railroad. But the history that named the restaurant was when an ever-graceful woman named Charlotte Costalas arrived in town. Charlotte grew up on a farm in rural upstate Pennsylvania, left her 12 brothers and sisters and traveled to Philadelphia, with family recipes in hand and dreams of opening a fine restaurant in her head. Her recipes were used since the day her son, Gus Costalas, purchased the restaurant in August of 1981 and later bought the Country Squire, which celebrated 50 years in 2014. At the time of purchase, Charlotte’s was operating as the Barrel Inn. Two of Gus and his wife Lena’s five sons, Jimmy and Chris, run the establishment today. Bessie Satir is Lena’s sister. A large portrait of Charlotte hangs near the hostess desk so everyone can admire the lady who started it all. The family feels she is smiling down on them, proud of the restaurant’s longevity and success.
Chris Costalas manages the front of the house and the bar and is the “fixer” of all problems. A graduate of the Widener University School of Hotel and Restaurant Management and taught by some of the area’s top chefs, Jimmy Costalas oversees the restaurant’s operation in and out of the kitchen.
Charlotte’s entrees, always served in generous portions, include premium steaks, chops, seafood and other American fare, many served with a gourmet twist. Famous for their lump crab cakes served with champagne lobster sauce, Charlotte’s menu includes scores of other dishes including Talapia Oscar, chicken or veal sorrentino, roast leg of lamb, potato crusted salmon fillet, eggplant parmesan, jumbo lobster ravioli, chicken or veal saltimbocca, sauteed calves liver, tri-colored tortellini with prosciutto and peas and marinara sauce. Desserts are usually homemade and include everything from rocky road brownie and strawberries romanoff to chocolate chip cannoli and classic carrot cake.
The full-service restaurant serves early bird specials 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 3 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Weekly specials are also offered, such as all-you-can-eat crab nights and half-price wine bottle nights. Happy hour is held at the bar daily 4 to 6 p.m. The restaurant also serves large groups and accommodates everyone from full bus trips to community organizations, such as Rotary, and business meetings. The restaurant staff enjoys hosting family “life events,” like wedding rehearsal dinners, engagements, funerals, birthdays, bowling banquets, first holy communion parties and graduations.
To make a reservation or find out more about Charlotte’s Restaurant at 3207 West Chester Pike, call 610-356-7100 or visit CharlottesRestaurant.com. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“It has been a wonderful experience working at Charlotte’s,” Satir reflected. “Through all these year, I have always enjoyed helping to make memorable days and nights and a fine dining experience for all of those who walked through our door. Just like Charlotte herself, I always tried to make everyone feel really welcome here.”