Halcyon owner puts community first

Oct. 27—ASHTABULA — A couple whose romance started in a bar/restaurant in Traverse City, Michigan, in 1999 has come full circle as Jennifer Luhta operates a thriving Bridge Street business, Halcyon.

Luhta met her husband, Gunar, who had deep roots in Ashtabula, when she was a cocktail waitress and he was a bartender. He was attending the Great Lakes Maritime Academy at the time.

Upon graduation he became involved in a friend's marine business in St. Thomas, and the couple spent three years enjoying the unique lifestyle of the island community, and married in 2005.

Jennifer Luhta said it was a great experience to learn a new culture, and the couple lived on their sailboat.

Eventually, they decided to have children and came back to the United States, and Gunar worked in the shipping industry.

The couple later decided to gather their children on a sailboat and sailed the Florida Keys and much of the East Coast between 2008 and 2015. "It was very magical," she said.

"He would get [work on] a ship for awhile," she said of the financing of their experience.

In 2016, the couple decided to come back to northeastern Ohio and Gunar Luhta took a job as a ship captain which opened up the door for a new career for Jennifer, who was looking for an outlet.

"I needed something to do. Gunar is gone a lot," she said.

The opportunity to grow a business in the Harbor became a focus for Jennifer.

"We fell in love with Bridge Street. We did it all with our own finances," she said of the start of the business during the 2017 Wine and Walleye Festival.

Luhta said she has gotten to know so many people and tries to see the business as a way to serve other people. "When I came, I didn't know anybody," she said.

"It has been such a fun place," she said of the business that is about to expand into Perry.

The business had to find a way through the pandemic, and Luhta tried to focus on being kind to people in such a challenging time.

The "speakeasy" style restaurant/bar has grown over the years as customers have provided thoughts on what they would like to see on the menu. "You've got to do what the people want," she said of menu changes that are instituted periodically.

She said the mood of the restaurant was intended to capture the idyllic sense of the "roaring 20s." "That is our plan for everything," she said.

Luhta has been able to get involved in a lot of community activities. She is presently president of the Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau board and is about to direct the Greater Ashtabula Chamber of Commerce as president in the new year.