Apr 03, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The Mandana Inn restaurant on West Lake Road has been a destination restaurant — a Skaneateles Lake institution — for more than 100 years. On April 6, after three months closed for building restoration work, the Inn will reopen for its first full year with a new owner, new chef and enhanced menu and wine list with an emphasis on using local products and producers.
“People will definitely recognize it; it’s not a drastic change. We’re freshening it up, is the word,” said owner James Hares of the restaurant’s physical improvements. “The menus have all been enhanced but everyone will still be able to order all the classic favorites.”
Hares purchased the Mandana Inn last July from owners Joseph and Gracia Koziol, who had run the business for more than 50 years. The change was a comfortable one for all involved and all the curious regular customers, however, since Hares had been a waiter and front of the house presence at the Mandana Inn for 26 years.
“This restaurant has always been warm and inviting, and I want to maintain that — keep it historic but very cottage-y,” Hares said. “There’s a lot of history in this building.”
The Mandana Inn originally was built in 1793 as a stagecoach stop, and in 1835 was established as a restaurant, Hares said.
Any historic building needs eventual restoration work both inside and outside, and most new business owners like to put their own stamp on their new endeavors. The Mandana Inn under Hares has been a “work in progress” since he took over last July, but it’s been during the annual winter closing period after New Year’s that most of the work has been done, Hares said.
During the past three months, contractors have been busy freshening up and “enhancing” the historic restaurant. The exterior received a new paint job, many new windows, a new front façade and front porch (all historically correct to the colonial period) and a new handicapped-accessible ramp.
“We’ve needed a ramp for years, and now we’ll be more accessible to everybody,” Hares said.
Inside, the Mandana Inn now has new carpets, new lighting, a fresh paint job and a new air conditioning system. The warm and inviting feel of the rooms have not changed, Hares is quick to point out, and regular customers will see the same tables and chairs, same furniture, same pictures and items on the walls, and the same bar.
Returning customers to the inn will see a new menu with a mix of all the Mandana Inn classics — Boston scrod, frog’s legs, Black Angus filet, black-bean soup and house made pasta— but also many new offerings by chefs Luke Szabo and Aaron Rowe.
Szabo came to the Mandana Inn last summer as part of the restaurant transition, but he trained under the Koziols for a number of weeks to learn all their Mandana classics, Hares said. Rowe is a 10-year veteran of the restaurant.
Starting with the opening on April 6, the Mandana Inn menu will have new appetizers, new entrees and desserts, and new brunch offerings. “There will be a lot of changes, while keeping all the classics,” Hares said.
There also will be a new special events menu, with a renewed interest in offering the Mandana Inn as a destination for banquets, weddings and other events, Hares said. “That’s something Mandana hasn’t really done in a while that we’re very interested in,” he said.
The wine list also will have a different look and feel to it, with a much more diverse offering of wines from different regions of the US and the world, including local selections from Skaneateles’ own Anyela’s Vineyards and Hobbit Hollow Vineyards.
The opportunity to utilize local products and producers, in fact, will be a major premise of the inn under Hares’ stewardship. “To provide the freshest, best quality food and use as many local purveyors as possible is our mission,” he said.
In addition to serving local wines, the Mandana Inn will also “do as much as possible” with local producers on West Lake Road, Hares said.
For example, Laxton’s Florist & Nursery is growing two vegetable and produce gardens for the inn this year, which basically means that as produce comes into season, the chefs will go out to the gardens in the morning, and use those freshly-picked ingredients in the recipes that evening. Other vegetables such as tomatoes and Swiss chard are also being used from the greenhouses at Hobbit Hollow Farm.
Hares is also working with Lockwood Lavender Farm not just for lavender, but also for their locally-raised lamb.
And what about Hares himself, and his new role as owner?
“I will be the manager and the owner, and I will continue to wait on tables,” he said, adding that he not only enjoys serving, but many of the regular customers like having him as their server.
“I’ve developed great relationships with the regulars through the years — and in fact the regulars have great relationships with each other,” he said.
When the Mandana Inn reopens for the 2012 season on April 6, there will be no big party or grand reopening bash, just an unlocking of the door, a smile and a welcome from Hares and the same warm and inviting atmosphere the Mandana Inn has had for more than a generation.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Hares said when asked about a reopening event. “Our customers like business as usual.”
The Mandana Inn is located at 1937 West Lake Road. The bar opens at 4 p.m. and dinner service begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, from April 6 through Memorial Day weekend. During the summer the restaurant is also open on Mondays.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.