"You drive a half hour and you’re standing next to a beautiful waterfall and you’re hiking all day… It’s awesome!"
Ryan Cooper has spent his whole life in Scranton. In one way or another, the 46-year-old has been connected to the Electric City’s hospitality industry since birth. From hangin’ coats as a kid on New Year’s Eve at the family restaurant (yeah – that Cooper’s), to bouncin’ and runnin’ the DJ booth at Tink’s (RIP), his, so far, is a life festooned with all the trappings of a legendary family establishment – good and not so.
Ryan spent his formative years on the West Side. He busted up his knees playing ball in the street and riding bikes at the culm banks. He attended St. Ann’s and then Riverside and then The U. Through it all, he worked just about every job a family restaurant could dream up. He sacrificed school dances and parties. Young Ryan cooked and bussed and cleaned and parked cars. Eventually, he got to thinking, “Is there more?”
But, before he could even conjure an answer, he met a girl. And yeah, they traveled quite a bit. And yeah, they fell in love and you know the rest. She turned him around. She helped him see that everything he could ever want or need was right here – in this legendary local restaurant, in this living, breathing family legacy, in the hills and valleys and small towns of NEPA.
And that’s where we caught up with the ever-gracious (and often gregarious) host, in Cooper’s tchotchke-laden bar room. It’s also where he answered that burning query – Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
Since I was born. I just turned 47. So, my whole life (laughs). I never left.
What do you love about your town?
I mean, what don’t I love about this town? Scranton has everything. I always think that when people tell me they’re moving out and that there’s nothing to do here. Like, how can you say that? What are you looking for that we don’t have? Within 2 hours you have New York, you got Philly, you can even go to the beach at Cape May. I mean that’s a little bit farther, but still, you have all of that close by and then you have everything you could possibly be looking for right here.
You have all these cool small towns and nooks and crannies to explore. You can go up to Jim Thorpe for a day. NEPA is just an awesome place to explore. And, honestly, I know a lot of people that moved away and they’re always telling me how much they regret it and how much they miss the seasons and just the feel of it all.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
Ok. Well, I am biased. I have to say Cooper’s (laughs). But really, we do have about a million amazing restaurants here. And if you’re going to force me to pick, I will say that Maroni’s is one of my favorites. I grew up a block from the place and I still eat there at least twice a month. That’s no lie. I love their pizza. We just had Sibio’s for my birthday, which is right up the street here. Love it. I mean, c’mon. This area has more awesome, little restaurants than anywhere I can think of. And they’re all so good. You got Nina’s and Town Tavern for wings.
I could go off on this for days. There are so many. It’s hard to name just a few, especially when you’re in this business. You make a lot of friends. Think about cheesesteaks. You got Cosmo’s… Ok. I’ll really just keep going (laughs).
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
We love to travel and we’ve gotten into taking these little mini trips here locally. You know, like day trips? We just did Hershey – stayed at the hotel, went to the park. Next week, we’re going to go out to Lake Wallenpaupack and spend a few days out there. Then, we’re going to take a short trip up to the Hudson Valley in New York for the little Christmas villages. It’s fun. It’s all decorated kind of like the Christmas Carol. My wife plans it all. She the brains of the operation. I’m the driver (laughs). I just put it in the GPS and go.
Of course, we love getting out and hiking at parks like Ricketts Glen. My wife has like this list of local coffee shops that she’s determined to finish. So, we’re always kind of planning weekend day trips around just really cool places that we want to see. And then a lot of times, we just stay at home by the fire pit and watch some football.
What’s next for you?
Well, professionally, the brewery is going to be expanding. We have some items on the drawing board that focus on expanding production and possibly moving the brewery into our warehouse, which would be an outdoor/indoor space. We’d love to make it something like almost an indoor beer garden with picnic tables and cornhole and giant Jenga and a bar that you could use all year long. We’re going to be redoing the front of the restaurant to be a seaport. We’re working on that right now. We want it to feel like you’re kind of walking down by the beach in Cape May. You know? We want to make it fun with different colors and kind of a boardwalk. That’s kind of our thing here. We want to be fun and quirky.
And, personally… I don’t know. I’m very satisfied right now. I’m just happy coming in to work every day. I love the people I work with and my family. I really don’t have anything more to ask for out of life (laughs). I feel kind of weird saying it, but I really feel content.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
I think we’re definitely heading towards a younger generation, towards a younger city. From what I see here at the restaurant, since we put the brewery in and with the dock doing so well, we’re definitely seeing younger crowds. I think it’s a great thing for us, because, as a business, you have to evolve in some ways. And when you look at our region as a whole, it’s kind of reflective of the way everything’s changing. NEPA’s getting younger. And that’s going to be good for everybody. That said, we still have our regular customers who’ve been coming to Cooper’s for decades. So, we’ll evolve here and there, but we’ll never abandon those families that have made this place what it is. We’ve been here about 75 years, and there’s a reason for that.
Our roots are here. My Grandpa started this whole thing in 1948. Then, my parents took over. And now, I’m coming in with my cousins. It’s family more than anything. And nostalgia – that’s certainly a big part of it. I don’t think you could transplant this to like Key West and have it be the same. You know? We’d be just another beach bar anywhere else. Here, it’s like, ‘why the hell is there a lighthouse in the middle of Scranton?’ (laughs). ‘Why is there an octopus on the roof?’ It’s all just kind of grown organically, and our customers are the best in the world. Our staff is amazing. Some of them have been with us for like 30 or 40 years. I just can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing, or anywhere else I’d rather be doing it.