It’s impossible to ignore the creaks and cracks of the wooden floors in the Clay Haus as owner Scott Snider and his employees hustle to prepare for the lunchtime rush. The sounds allude to the brick restaurant’s age, but also to the rich history of Somerset that lies inside.
Named after Snider’s grandfather, Irwin Clay Priest, the Clay Haus has served guests old-fashioned, home cooked meals since 1979. It’s been a family business from the beginning; the building was renovated by Snider, his five siblings and his father. Snider’s mother, Betty, provided a number of old German recipes from the early colonial days.
“I would say we represent stability [in the community],” Snider says. “We’re sorta like the pillar that pulls it all together. I mean, 40 years with the same family show that we’re very stable.”
With an eclectic menu of classic German dishes such as pan-fried chicken liver with apples and onions, and charbroiled bratwurst served with sauerkraut, the Clay Haus offers American-inspired meals as well, such as the deep-fried chicken snack. The restaurant also offers beers and wines local to the area in its renovated basement Rathskellar, a new favorite place for regulars to sit back and relax.
It may not only be the classic dishes, local spirits and the warm and comfortable atmosphere that leave customers coming back for more. Different kinds of spirits — the ones that haunt — are known to lurk around the Clay Haus.
The walls of the three-story restaurant are riddled with memorabilia from the community: black and white photographs, old posters and antiques — all of which encapsulate how the Snider family strives to make guests feel at home.
“I actually know a lot of the family names because the area’s been settled,” Snider says as he points to a photograph of Somerset High School’s class of 1942 on the wall. “A lot of the pictures and things that I have were brought in from regulars.”
Snider reflects on his first few experiences with paranormal activity in the restaurant, beginning with his time working as a boy. At first, he says he would catch glimpses out of the corner of his eye or hear noises late at night.
But Snider is not the only one who has seen or heard the multitude of paranormal incidents in the Clay Haus.
“When I worked here in high school…I used to sweep the floors on Thursdays when we weren’t open,” employee Kirstin Abram says. “In the middle of the day I heard all [of] the chairs moving as though we were slammed, like the whole restaurant was filling up. But, there wasn’t a single soul there.”
When things began to escalate, Snider turned to the professionals.
“I’ve had several teams of ghost hunters in here,” Snider says. “I had them go into a room to take pictures and frankly, everything died. The camera’s died, nothing worked and that is what they say about spirits, they can suck the energy away.”
Three of the investigations were performed by the Paranormal Research Society of North America (PRSNA), a team of paranormal investigators who aim to document and scientifically prove the existence of ghosts. The Clay Haus’ haunted reputation has also led to a feature in the book, Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio.
Over the years, Snider says that the ghosts and spirits in the Clay Haus often drive people into the restaurant, rather than scare them away. As for how the experiences impact his life, Snider is at peace.
“I’m tied to this place,” he says. “It doesn’t affect me or what I do, but you know, it is now a part of who I am.”