Saving The Milleridge Inn
At times, renovations and restorations of historical properties can be met with uncertainty from the local community. The Milleridge in Jericho, New York, for example, was built in 1672 and is known for its inn, charming shops, eateries, and holiday traditions. When we acquired the property, which is adjacent to our Jericho Commons shopping center, we had to think strategically about how to preserve the Inn’s historical elements that local residents had come to know and love, while also ensuring a smooth transition to new ownership.
Prior to considering new ownership, we actively engaged the community and local politicians during the selection process due to the site’s sensitivity. For three months, we fielded inquiries from both restaurateurs and caterers, retail chains, and assisted living companies, until we finally met the perfect duo for the job: Butch Yamali, owner of The Dover Group NY, and attorney Anthony Capetola, who owns The Carltun in East Meadow. The two catering veterans formed Milleridge Ventures and became the first new owners of The Milleridge, and our operating partners at the Inn, in over 50 years.
At Kimco, we like to patronize our tenants where we can. Under Butch’s leadership, we have been able to utilize the Milleridge for some corporate functions. We spoke with Butch about the transition of ownership at the Inn, the challenges he faces owning a historic property, and the changes he’s made since operating The Milleridge to make it current with today’s retail environment.
What is your typical day at The Milleridge like?
Butch Yamali: The Milleridge is a pretty complex facility. There are a series of stores, a restaurant, a variety of banquet rooms inside the restaurant, and a catering hall. We make sure we have all the supplies we need for the day, staff is in, and the Inn is cleaned. We have all of our table arrangements set up for the variety of parties or events that we have going on. I check on the stores, stop to talk to guests, go in the kitchen, and wander around to make sure things are operating smoothly.
What made The Milleridge an attractive property to you?
Yamali: My company, Dover, operates facilities that were once great and lost their luster over the years because their owners lost interest, or they got older and the place started getting run down. We take over these places, and we make them great again. The Milleridge Inn is a perfect example of that. It’s a long-owned facility, and it was once one of the top restaurants in America. Many people know of The Milleridge Inn, and I wanted to get involved to make it as good as it once was.
Are there any challenges that come with managing a historical property?
Yamali: The biggest challenge is making the customers happy. You have customers that have been here for generations with their families, and they’re expecting certain things that you may not be able to offer because times have changed. We try to figure out ways we can get younger people in so that the next generation comes and enjoys the facility also. We came up with a series of sandwiches, and created a new menu that has salads, gluten-free options, and a little bit of something for everybody.
How did you ensure a smooth transition from the former owners to your management team?
Yamali: That was the most difficult part. The old owner, who was there for 50 years, sold the property to Kimco, but wasn’t ready to leave. One day, he handed me the keys, and that was it. We stepped in — I brought in my crew from different restaurants that I own — and we operated until we figured it out. I had trucks there at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve because we had to be opened up on New Year’s Day with brunch. I had some of my other facilities pack refrigerated trucks with food so we were ready to go in the morning with the staff to open New Year’s Day. We’ve been open every single day since then.
Have you made any changes to the Inn or its operations since you’ve started?
Yamali: We’ve brought The Milleridge into the next century. We put in a professional point of sale (POS) system, MICROS. We’ve also added different systems in the building that are more efficient, and improved service, cleanliness, phones, computers, and bathrooms. A lot of different things at the Inn weren’t operating properly, but they are now.
What has been the public’s reaction to the changes you’ve made since managing The Milleridge?
Yamali: The people that really wanted the change are very happy, because now they can come back. The bathrooms are clean and renovated, the menu has better offerings, and the parking lot doesn’t have holes in it. We also offer a lot of events, especially for children and families, which have helped us engage with the community in a new way.
What types of events do you host at The Milleridge?
Yamali: Every major holiday such as New Year’s Eve and Christmas. We set up our own events — 21 Days of Christmas, where we have carolers come every night and sing to the diners and the party-goers. We have different displays in the village such as a donated 50-year-old mechanical Christmas display. We also do Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Passover.
What would you say is the busiest time of the year?
Yamali: Thanksgiving Day through New Year’s Eve, which is six weeks of nonstop traffic. I think we fed over 35,000 people during that course of time last year. New York State said that we’re one of the top restaurants in the state, a must-visit for 2017. We’re one of two on Long Island, and number nine in the entire state, which has been very helpful — people are calling like crazy. We do have a bakery on-site as well, so we bake some cool stuff.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yamali: The Milleridge is a very different place. When you’re at The Milleridge, you feel like you’re back in time, and I don’t want the property to lose that feel. You can go to the bakery where they’re making old-fashioned cakes, there’s a flower shop, a general store selling trinkets like marbles and those tricky games you’d see as a little kid. There’s a Christmas store that’s opened year-round and a little café with a soda shop inside, making ice cream sodas and egg creams. The Milleridge Inn is a great place to visit if you are looking for a warm and welcoming environment.
The Milleridge is the perfect example of how successful operations owners are able to take a nervous public, build trust in new leadership, and ultimately turn a property into a nostalgic focal point.
Interested in learning more about The Milleridge? Check out the photos below, and follow them on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram for updates. Event listings and additional information can also be found at www.milleridgeinn.com.
This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.