Herdic House - Love of Food and Historic Preservation
Sep 12, 2019 04:19AM
Dante Miele-Elion, Liz Miele and Gloria Miele
By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
The 1980s may seem like an eon ago, but time has flown by for Gloria Miele and her sister Marcia who, in a bout of youthful exuberance, opened the Peter Herdic House restaurant in Williamsport 35 years ago. How they and other family members have sustained the business can serve as a primer for good restaurant management.
Love of Food and Historic Preservation
Gloria and Marcia Miele, two sisters from South Williamsport, began their restaurant careers when they opened The Court and Willow Café near the courthouse in Williamsport in 1977. The rationale was simple.
“My sister had gone to Brown University. There was a sandwich shop up there that was always so busy; [on that basis] we went for it,” explained Gloria. “It was a lot of hard work. We were open seven days a week and were the pulse of the community at the time, but the restaurant business is really difficult. You get five to seven good years before it starts to become a drag.”
Concurrently, the sisters took on an even bigger challenge. In 1984, the Bureau of Historic Preservation approved a grant of $100,000 for the rehabilitation of the Peter Herdic house, located on Williamsport’s Millionaire’s Row, a national historic district comprised of over 200 Victorian-era residential buildings. Herdic, one of the wealthiest men in Pennsylvania in the 1800s, rose to prominence as a lumber baron, politician, entrepreneur, inventor and philanthropist.
In 1984, the Herdic house was owned by the Peter Herdic Partnership. The rehabilitation, undertaken by Lundy Construction, was completed in December 1984. On Nov. 5, 1984, the Peter Herdic restaurant opened under the management of Marcia and Gloria. In May 1985, the renovations were recognized as the top preservation project of 1984 by the PA Bureau of Historic Preservation.
“We have managed to combine our love of food with our passion for historic preservation,” said Gloria. “Over the years, we have restored six properties on [West Fourth] street. My sister and I started Preservation Williamsport in 1986 and it is still alive today.”
Eventually the sisters closed The Court and Willow Café to focus on the Peter Herdic restaurant and the six-room Peter Herdic inn next door, which they purchased on the advice of friends who owned an inn. “The inn brings business and the two complement each other,” said Gloria.
Sadly, Marcia passed in 2012. “That was difficult for me and it made the business difficult to maintain,” said Gloria.
Subsequently, Gloria passed the baton to her daughter Liz, who owns the restaurant with nephew Dante Miele-Elion, a law student in Manhattan. Gloria maintains her involvement in the business. “I take reservations, handle communications and hostess,” she said.
Evolution through the years
The Meile family knows they are outliers when it comes to their restaurant’s longevity, which Gloria jokingly attributes to a stubborn streak. It’s obvious the family has cultivated valuable relationships along the way, a vital factor to success according to a 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry Report that lists staffing as one of the top five challenges of restaurant management.
“My mom worked for pretty much nothing for 30 years, baking for us from age 65 to 95, and our innkeeper is wonderful,” said Gloria.
Liz, who is on Williamsport’s City Council, also stresses the importance of nurturing good relationships with employees and purveyors. “It’s hard work and you need to be passionate, but you also need to appreciate the human connections that you are fortunate to make as part of the business.”
Another aspect of cultivating relationships is striving to make the Herdic House menu accessible to those who otherwise may not have the means to dine at the establishment. “Blue Plate Specials,” priced at $12, are served every Wednesday; $6 craft cocktails are available every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.
Restaurant ownership requires a huge investment in time, as well. Keeping limited hours helps make the workload manageable, according to Gloria. “The restaurant is open four days, and we only serve breakfast on the weekends,” she notes.
Another key trend, according to the Restaurant Industry Report, is a demand for healthful and locally sourced items; the Meiles have responded accordingly. “When we first opened, we had a fish supplier, meat supplier and Sysco; now my daughter sources from 25 to 30 different farmers,” said Gloria.
Liz affirms that fresher flavors just taste better. “Buying local produce gives us an exceptional advantage,” she notes. She drives to the local farmers’ markets and fills up her van on a regular basis. Gloria also lends a hand. “I live in Muncy and drive to Turbotville to pick up turkey, ham and bacon,” she added.
Liz’s advice to anyone considering entering the restaurant business is to be aware—it’s a labor of love, not a moneymaker. “After 35 years in business, we consider ourselves fortunate to break even and eat well—ok, very well—but we do work hard and stay late, and it’s because we love it.”
The Meile family feels honored to be in a position to invest in their local community and its farms. “We hope that we’re helping to build the sort of community that my daughter and all of our children want to live in,” said Liz.
As for the future? One goal is to perhaps open another business. Of those impending plans, Liz said, “What that [business] looks like and when it will happen are still to be determined.”
Stephanie Kalina-Metzger is a freelance writer based in Camp Hill.