New Market residents are hopeful a historic restaurant that reopened under new management this month will help to revive struggling businesses downtown.
After a month-long wait, the Mealey’s Restaurant and Pub — formerly Mealey’s Restaurant and most recently Mealey’s Table — opened July 25 with Bob and Janice Felter as some of its first diners. The New Market residents, and longtime patrons of Mealey’s, were among the about 200 people who dined at the restaurant for its first public dinner service.
“We decided to come because we wanted to eat at Mealey’s; we’ve always eaten at Mealey’s,” said Janice Felter.
“It’s fantastic,” Janice said minutes later of the couple’s appetizer, a sweet roll with raisins and an orange peel glaze.
The historic eatery was a fixture in the town for almost a century until rising debts and the effects of the economic downturn forced its previous owner — Chim Butt — to close in March 2009.
For three years, the restaurant was closed until being reopened as Mealey’s Table by business partners Patrick Forest and Raina Hull in April.
Mealey’s Table was shut down less than six weeks later due to a weak customer response to its new modern American menu.
Now, under the operation of General Manager Susan Shipley Witmer and head chef Jack Hand, with help from investor Carl Miller, a New Market cattle farmer, the new restaurant is returning to the family-oriented atmosphere for which the original restaurant was known.
Dishes such as stuffed flounder, crab cakes and fried chicken have returned to the restaurant, along with several building features like a mirror from the old restaurant and a few previous employees.
George Bode, of Middletown, said he has dined at Mealey’s in the past, and was at its most recent opening.
He said there are many similarities between the original eatery and the current one.
“To be honest I can’t really tell the difference,” he said, as he ate Jack’s Fresh Beef Burger from the new menu.
Currently, the restaurant is open for dinner service, which starts at 3 p.m., and will host its grand opening Aug. 8-12 celebration, after which the restaurant will have extended hours.
“I’m excited for [Mealey’s],” said New Market Mayor Winslow Burhans III.
Burhans was one of several guests invited to try some of the new restaurant’s fare as part of their open house.
“I thought [their] crab balls were out of this world,” he said.
Besides a night of good food for residents and visitors, Burhans said he thinks the opening of Mealey’s, as well as the expansion of Milo's, another Main Street restaurant, will help to improve business in the town.
“When the restaurants open up and start doing well that will bring more foot traffic in ... [and] the businesses will start to do well too,” he said. “People will have more choices and that’s going to bring the tourists.”
“I think it will be a wonderful boost for the town,” said Robert Esterly, owner of Robert Esterly Antiques at 20 W. Main St., about a block away from Mealey’s. “I think it will bring people in; they’ll have a reason to come; they can shop, they can dine; they’ll have good choices.”
“Anything we can do to have traffic coming get back to town is good,” said Rick Fleshman, owner of Fleshman's Antiques at 2 W. Main St. “It’s helpful having Milo’s at the other end of town and now having Mealey’s on this side of town.”
The response from the community about the new restaurant — especially at the recent open house — has been overwhelming, according to Witmer.
“Last night was awesome. We had a great open house,” she said, of the July 25 opening. “[There was] a lot of positive response from the community. It made me cry.”
“I think it’s a great thing for the town,” said Thomas Morris, owner of Mom's Pizza & Grill, at 26 W. Main St.
Fleshman said he thinks the restaurant is already bringing in more people to town.
“You see cars lined at both ends of the road, and that makes people stop and see [about it],” he said.
Sharon Nelson, owner of Tomorrow’s Antiques, at 50 W. Main St., said she’s glad the restaurant has reopened.
“We were sorry when it closed, we just hope it makes it,” she said. “We’re glad to have it there. It certainly can’t hurt [business].”