Suwannee Democrat


March 6, 2014

Entrepreneur makes history come alive at Telford Hotel

Jasper — The historic Telford Hotel Restaurant in White Springs held a surprise soft opening sneak preview on Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2, in preparation for the official opening of the restaurant on Monday, March 3. The opening of the restaurant is just the first part of a huge restoration project that new owner Reese Brown has undertaken.

On Saturday, March 1, White Springs Mayor Helen Miller said, “We heard there was a soft opening and we came. As mayor, I’m thrilled to have the Telford Hotel Restaurant opened. It’s a good sign for the economic development and growth of our community. The food and the service has been terrific.”

Other diners had similar good things to say about the food and services and vowed to keep coming back.

The vision

“We’re hoping to make this more of a destination than a restaurant,” said Brown. “We want people to be able to come in and sit around after they eat, and listen to music in both the front and back parlors.”

The back parlor, Brown said, will be folk type music and in the front parlor he envisions piano and string instruments.

New rugs are on order for the entire establishment and should arrive in June. Brown said the rugs will have a Victorian rose pattern in five different colors, depending on where they will be placed. New window treatments are also on order, but will take weeks before they are delivered.

Twenty hotel rooms on the second floor will be open at the end of March and an upstairs third floor dinner theatre is scheduled to be open by June. There will also be banquet facilities that can be leased.

Another added treat will be horse and buggy rides for hotel guests. On Friday and Saturday nights, Brown said if he can get permission from Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, he will be offering horse and buggy rides that will take guests on a tour through the park.

The restaurant

The restaurant will be open seven days a week. The hours will be 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

“Weekend hours are a little tricky,” Brown said. “Friday, the main buffet will be open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., and then it shuts down and the bar will open.”

A full liquor bar in a separate lounge will run from 3-5 p.m. and then the dining room will reopen from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.”

On Saturday mornings from 6-10 a.m. the restaurant will be serving breakfast, and on Sundays there will be a champagne brunch from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

On Friday and Saturday nights, aside from the bar menu of popcorn shrimp, clam strips, chicken and other items, the main dining menu will include entrees such as steak, pasta, prime rib, country fried steak, grilled, baked, fried or blackened fish and shrimp, and surf-n-turf.

Barbecue or catfish type meals, Brown said, will not be on the menu.

“If you want catfish or hamburger or barbecue, Fat Belly’s is where you should go,” Brown said. “I don’t want to take any business from anybody. There’s enough business around here for everyone. Fat Belly’s has good food and I’ve known them for years and years. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to bring a piece of history back to life.”

The Pizzeria

An exciting part of the overall dining experience at the Telford will be fresh pizzas that can be ordered and picked up. There is a bar area beyond the main dining room that hasn’t been used in years, which is where the pizzeria will be located. Customers can either take their pizza home and cook it or have the Telford cook it for them.

There will also be pizza delivery service, as well as limited delivery for dinner items like fried chicken or meatloaf platters. The delivery service area, Brown said, will encompass about a five-mile radius around the hotel.

Baked goods

“About the same time the pizzeria opens, then we’ll start doing my favorite,” Brown said. “That’s my baking.”

Once all of his baking equipment arrives and gets set up, Brown said they will offer fresh doughnuts and cinnamon rolls on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Preserving history

“We’ve just got a whole lot of little things that I’m trying to pull together,” said Brown. “I think the history of this house has never been shown. It’s here and everybody knows by word of mouth, but we’re having a lot of it researched.”

There will be a book coming out in June of next year that will offer details about all the different people who have owned the hotel over the years and why they decided to open it, as well as information on people who have stayed at the hotel.

Brown said he has been taking a lot of pictures of the hotel during the remodeling process.

He said, “Hopefully, it never happens, but if it changes hands down the road, I’m hoping that I can keep this now where it will just stay in the family.”

Prior to the soft opening on March 1, people were coming by in droves all day, every day asking Brown when the place was going to be open for business. He said he didn’t want to open the Telford until July or August after the bulk of the work had been completed, but “the town’s just pressuring me to get it open now,” he said with a smile.

“Knock on wood, if everything goes through between the city, the state, the government and my help, we’re going to start the front porch in June,” said Brown. “That’s my biggest goal. Everybody has had this place and nobody has ever put the cherry back on the cake, is the way I look at it.”

The two staircases on both sides of the building, Brown said, will be taken off, as the porch work progresses.

He explained that the former owner did a lot of repair work, such as leveling the foundation and installing a fire sprinkler system and ensuring that all fire codes were met.

The mystery leak

Construction and remodeling moved along at a brisk pace, but, there was one issue that was still being investigated. According to Brown, as well as Town Manager Bob Farley, there is some sort of water leak somewhere on the property that is leaking 80 gallons of water an hour and no one can seem to find the source. Brown said he has had contractors searching every inch of the building, as well as under the foundation.

“We can’t find a wet spot in this entire place,” said Brown. “It’s crazy.”

As of Feb. 25, the leak was still a mystery.

Grand opening

Brown is shooting for a Dec. 1 grand opening which will feature a large Victorian dress ball.  Everybody who comes to the ball will be required to wear period clothing and the entire hotel will be open for viewing, including all 20 rooms on the second floor, so they won’t be rented out that night.

“It will actually be the first time in a very long time that all the rooms have been opened,” he said.

The third floor dining hall will be equipped with a stage and a new sound system. It will be available for party rentals and can be decorated however the client wishes. Brown said he isn’t averse to even doing movie days or nights with free popcorn for the kids, as he wants to make it a family friendly environment.

“We are going to be doing real plays,” he said. “I’m trying to get involved with the schools and the drama classes, or people who have small bands who just want somewhere to perform in front of friends.”

Friday and Saturday nights, he said, will be mainly a dinner theatre venue featuring comedy and burlesque. One of Brown’s friends, he said, is a Bette Midler lookalike/impersonator and will be the opening show when the dinner theatre opens.

During the summer, Brown said, he wants to open the pool for the locals.

Murder mystery weekends

“I’ve got a company out of Miami who’s going to do Murder Mystery weekends,” Brown said. “Everybody in the hotel will be involved.”

One such murder mystery will be about an innkeeper (Brown, of course) who inherited a hotel from his grandmother who was killed in the hotel. It will start out on a Friday afternoon during dinner at 5 and will continue through Sunday at 2 p.m.

“We’ll be trying to find out who killed my grandmother,” he said.

Whoever gathers the most evidence and nabs the culprit who killed grandma will win an entire free, all-inclusive weekend at the Telford Hotel for the next murder mystery weekend event.

Hotel rooms

By March 18, 10 of the hotel rooms will be open to accept guests, with the other 10 rooms following later. Brown reiterated that he really didn’t want to open up until everything was completed because he wanted his guests to see the totally remodeled concept of what he is doing to the place. The hotel, he said, is beautiful by itself and it has a lot of character. Since December, he has accomplished a lot in the makeover of the hotel.

“It’s an amazing transformation,” he said. “I wanted it to be different. Stay with me for just a little while and I’ll show you.”

The long term

Long term plans include even more exciting additions, including linking another 37 acre property Brown owns near the river on the other side of town to the hotel so that guests can go fishing, hiking and horseback riding. He also has plans to purchase a closed down farm in the town and reopen it as a working farm. Some of the food grown on that farm, he said, will be used in the hotel restaurant, including the use of range-fed chickens, which he uses even now.

Linking all three properties together, Brown said, could be just a pipe dream, but for now, it is what he sees in his future.

“I hated history in school until I bought my first old house,” said Brown.

Since then, he has renovated seven houses and now the Telford Hotel. Down the road he intends to add a hair salon and a florist on the first floor of the hotel.

Although reconstructing the three-tiered porch is an expensive project, it is one that Brown is adamant about completing. He is looking into grant assistance, since the hotel is on the National Historic Register. He hopes to have the porch completed by Christmas.

Plans are to install an open, vintage type elevator on the porch, similar to the one that used to be in operation at the White Sulphur Springs spring house, so that the handicapped have access to the second and third floors.

Parking is another issue Brown is still working on, however, he said he was given permission in the mean time for guests to utilize the lot at the tourism center.

“I’ve got a lot of ideas we’re trying to put in place here,” Brown said. “I don’t know how it’s all going to work. We’re trying our hardest. I think with the history of the hotel and what it was before, we’re just adding to it.”

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