By Savanah Bandy
Since 2006, Sam’s Cellar has been an anchor of the Neosho square.
It was a dream realized for John and Suzi Howsmon, who opened the unique underground bar and woodfired pizza restaurant because they wanted to do something good for the community. The love the couple poured into the restaurant has been returned to them again and again by the loyalty of their customers.
“We have some regulars that have been in our facility daily for 15 years,” Suzi said. “We also have loyal customers that drive from Kansas City, Northwest Arkansas, Springfield and Wichita. That’s what has truly made this business successful.”
That’s why when John Howsmon passed away in May from a stroke, his absence shook the Sam’s Cellar family, the wider community and beyond.
With her partner in life and business now gone, Suzi faced an extremely difficult decision.
“John and I built our dream together, and it just wouldn’t be the same continuing on without him,” she said. “So, I felt it was time to sell the business.”
Rather than see the restaurant go to strangers, Suzi’s son, Dusty Altman, decided to step up to the plate and keep it in the family.
“My mom and I sat down to figure out what we were going to do with not only Sam’s Cellar, but other businesses we have in the family,” Dusty said. “We were looking to sell, and the conversation came up of, ‘Why don’t I just buy it? Why didn’t we think of that?’ I have two little boys – one is six and one is two – and this will give me the opportunity to not have to travel so much for work, as I was doing before, and step in and give it some new vision and a breath of fresh air.”
Suzi said the knowledge that her son will be at the helm and carry out the legacy of Sam’s Cellar as John would have wanted it allows her to rest easier.
“I have complete faith Dusty will take our brand to a new level, and I’m extremely thrilled for the next phase of Sam’s Cellar success,” Suzi said. “John and I have always had high expectations of ourselves, our family members and our staff. I’ve always said mediocrity is not an option, and Dusty was raised with that philosophy.”
As a teenager, Dusty was heavily involved in the early development of the business and worked in several positions there.
“We built this restaurant as a family 15 years ago when I was in my junior year of high school. I remember hauling out 50-pound buckets of dirt and pulling nails out of floor joists. Once we opened, I worked in the kitchen for a couple years and held various positions before moving on and doing my own thing. My first real job was Sam’s Cellar, and I learned so much that helped me be successful in my corporate career, and I’m honored to bring it back to where it all started.”
While the career change represents a big life transition, Dusty said the decision to take over Sam’s Cellar was an easy one.
“I didn’t want an additional burden placed on my mom, who still maintains a successful corporate career outside the restaurant industry,” Dusty said. “When John passed, there was so much pressure on her, and I wanted to relieve that pressure and take the family business to a place where she’s comfortable, to do it right and honor the legacy of what she and John have built. I was taught a lot by John, both in business and in life, so I feel like I can be an extension of him in the future of Sam’s Cellar.”
The John & Suzi Story — The Birth of Sam’s Cellar
John and Suzi Howsmon always had a deep love and appreciation for their home of Neosho, Missouri. That’s why, in 2006, they got the idea to revive an underground downtown pub that hadn’t seen the light of day in nearly 40 years.
“Neither of us had ever worked in the restaurant industry when we decided to open Sam’s Cellar,” Suzi said. “We just wanted to do something good for the community.”
The couple purchased the space at 101 North Wood Street and got to work. The cellar was originally a pub in the 1940s, owned by Sam Wolfinbarger, who also owned and operated Wolfinbarger’s Luncheonette above on the street level. The pub primarily served the soldiers of Camp Crowder until the mid-1960s. It remained unseen and untouched until the Howsmons decided to revive it.
“It was a lot of hard work,” Suzi said. “We literally had to haul buckets of dirt out of the cellar, but it was a labor of love.”
Today, Sam’s Cellar is a destination that draws visitors from all over the country. It is known for its delicious woodfired pizzas, woodfired burgers, salads and wraps, and full bar with signature cocktails and wine flights. The stone walls and industrial features create a striking balance against sleek decor and blue lighting for a cool, contemporary atmosphere.
Over the years. Sam’s Cellar’s many loyal fans came for the food and atmosphere but stayed for the friendship and hospitality offered by John, Suzi and their team.
“This restaurant was the very first business project John and I tackled in our marriage, and we had so much fun bringing it to the community,” Suzi said. “It will always hold a special place in my heart. John will be deeply missed by all of our Sam’s Cellar family. We are all so grateful to him for his contributions, and I have complete faith Sam’s Cellar will continue to flourish in his memory.”