Wayside Inn temporarily shuts restaurant due to staffing issues
By Sally Voth
There's still room at the inn, but not currently at the table at the 215-year-old Wayside Inn in Middletown.
A sign taped to the grand old inn's locked front door proclaims the restaurant is "temporarily closed," but that accommodations were still available. Prospective guests are directed to call a cell phone number.
"We stopped the restaurant just before Thanksgiving," said Lois Charon, who with her husband Jacob bought the inn at auction for $1 million in 2009. "I think I turned away 250 reservations."
The 1797 property was auctioned less than a year after the death of longtime owner Leo Bernstein.
In an interview with the Daily following the auction, Mrs. Charon said they intended "to keep it running as a nice inn."
"We'll study how things are working now and then we'll make changes as we see fit," she said at the time.
In a Tuesday interview in the stately hotel's lobby, Mrs. Charon said she and her husband had been retired for 11 years when they bought the property.
"We were going to live here, not work, but we said, 'Let's give it a go,'" she said. "And, we're not closing due to lack of success. We're closing the dining room due to success. We couldn't keep up."
That's because getting reliable staff was extremely problematic, according to Mrs. Charon.
She was emphatic that the restaurant wasn't "closed," but that they were "taking a break" from operating it, although scheduled events, including weddings, would go on.
"The main reason is exhaustion due to staffing," Mrs. Charon said of the dining break. "December, we should've had about 20 Christmas parties that we didn't do. Again, staffing and kitchen help. My last staff was loyal to the end -- my servers and my front desk.
"Toward the end, I had one server and me, and I'm not a server. I had never been a server in my life. I taught many people how to work here."
Charon said he collects antiques, has a very big collection of clocks and makes large sculptures. He was attracted by the inn's antiques. He said they hadn't intended to have the inn or restaurant, "but everybody asked...and we tried."
"We did well -- that's the problem," his wife added.
The inn had been serving food seven days a week, with the Charons doing basically all the work.
Charon is the main chef, and added vegetarian items and a lamb shank meal to the menu, which included peanut soup and chicken pot pie.
Mrs. Charon praised her husband's cooking skills.
"This man would cook for 150 people in a day," she said.
The elegant dining rooms were dim, but clean Tuesday, and the commercial kitchen is massive. The couple keep chickens, ducks and pheasants out back for their eggs.
"But, trying to get support is really hard," Mrs. Charon said. "It's just a chain of issues."
Charon, who is from Israel, also blamed the recession as a contributing factor.
"If the change in the economy probably will help," he said. "The economy really bad. But the main thing is employees. We can't find anybody to work."
And, the Wayside Inn's 22 rooms -- all with in-room bathrooms, wi-fi and television -- remain open for guests, Mrs. Charon said. The rate includes a continental breakfast.
"We have guests just about every night," Mrs. Charon said.
Even with the restaurant not open, the couple is kept plenty busy. Earlier this year, most of the inn was painted a rust color.
"It needed painting," Mrs. Charon said. "It was a disaster area. It used to be white and peeling and crappy."
The couple constantly fielded questions about when they were going to paint the facade, she said. Mrs. Charon has looked for grants to help with fixing up part of the Wayside, but said it "didn't fit in any categories."
"That was a big problem," she said. "We've been doing repairs since we got here. Mr. Bernstein didn't take too much care of the building."
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org