Sunday, December 20, 2009

Old Mill Tavern: 'We want people to feel at home'

Do you ever just want to watch a football game, toss back a few drinks and enjoy a good, hearty burger? Do you ever just want to go to a restaurant where you can take the children, enjoy a great meal and not feel strapped for cash?

You can do both in the same restaurant, if you go to the Old Mill Tavern.

"It's just a rustic, comfortable place," owner John Gutowski says. "The atmosphere and the theme here is that we want people to feel at home."

The Old Mill Tavern sits comfortably on the side of Route 24. The site's original structure was a post office. When it was rebuilt, it became a restaurant. Now the place has it it all — great food, friendly atmosphere and great prices — all under one roof.

Its attributes don't go unnoticed. Even in these trying times, the Old Mill Tavern stays busy.

"In this difficult, economic time," Gutowski says, "our focus has been to make the quality the best it can be, and we're proud of that, because people are responding to that — our numbers are up."

Maurice Ching, who has worked at the Old Mill Tavern for more than 14 years, attributes a lot of that success to a few key items on the menu.

"You know, chili — we make almost like 40 gallons a week," Ching says, obviously proud of the Mill's recipe by the way he's smiling. "That's like one of the main things we sell here. Well, the burgers are big here, too, you know. We use more than 200 pounds of ground beef a week. Everything is homemade."

But it's not just the stellar burgers and chili: "People come for our wings," Gutowski says. "They enjoy the different varieties, from mild to suicide."

Not only is the food homemade, but it's ingredients come from local sources. Gutowski is trying to help the area by giving business back to it, and he does that by purchasing all of his raw materials from nearby vendors.

"One of the grassroots things about the Old Mill Tavern is that it's a local, hometown place, so it's important for us to tie the local butcher as well as the local farms into our business," Gutowski says. "And that's why, because our local butcher is a hometown guy. We're buying fresh food from him."

The restaurant has a special every night: all-you-can-eat crab legs on Monday nights, Mexican food on Tuesdays, pasta on Wednesdays and others for the rest of the week.

"I came up with that to grow business and to give to the customers something different, you know," Ching says. "Now, they not just coming for the burger, they're coming for pasta night, too. People really like it."

Another of the tavern's draws is the building itself. In one corner, there's a video game arcade that children can play while they wait for their parents to finish their meals. Patrons can drink a beer from one of the 24 varieties on tap. And the TVs are tuned to whatever big games are being broadcast.

"Saturday, we get all the college football games," Gutowski says, "Not just the Big Ten. We're on the ESPN GamePlan, so you can watch 11 different games. Wherever you're sitting, we'll give you what you want to watch."

Along with the excellent food and atmosphere, the Old Mill also tries to do something for the older crowd: "We offer 10 percent discounts for seniors on various nights," Gutowski says.

Gutowski, who has lived around the Chester area since 1977, thinks the success of his business stems from the great people who live here.

"Chester is a great place to be," he says. "It's a very quaint town, and the people are really genuine, and down to earth. It's a great place to live."

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