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Historic Village Inn gets bigger

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 September 2014 at 12:00 am

Tillman says addition keeps historic flavor, accommodates bigger crowds for special events

Photos by Tom Rivers – Mark Tillman, owner of Tillman’s Village Inn, stands next to a new addition under construction at the landmark restaurant at the corner of routes 98 and 104.

CHILDS – As it is nears its 200th anniversary, The Village Inn isn’t standing still as a business.

Two years ago, Mark Tillman gave the dining areas a new look with fresh paint, new tables, booths, finishings, lights, windows and soffits.

This summer, contractors led by Joe Penna of Holley started putting on a new 1,800-square-foot addition. The project should be done in two to three weeks, and will then be furnished to open in time for the holidays.

The addition will boost the capacity for parties and special events to about 225 to 250. The current main meeting room, a former carriage shop, seats about 150 to 165.

“We get numerous calls for wedding receptions, class reunions, banquets and special events,” said Mark Tillman, owner of the restaurant. “Two hundred seems to be the magic number.”

Tillman is also doubling the number of parking spaces to help accommodate the bigger crowds.

The Village Inn opened in 1824, before the Erie Canal opened, and long before the railroads and paved streets with cars. The Village Inn was part of a stagecoach route along Ridge Road, which was originally an Indian Trail.

The other taverns on the trail are long gone. In fact, few local landmark restaurants seem to last more than a generation. Locally, the Basket Factory, Albion Steakhouse, the Apple Grove, Barbary Coast all prominent local restaurants – have all closed.

Tillman said The Village Inn has endured, mainly because of its commitment to consistent high-quality food with a friendly staff. But he said the restaurant needs to be willing to change and seize some opportunities.

The Village Inn, with its historic flavor, stands out from other party houses, Tillman said.

“There are so many party rooms that are sterile,” he said. “They are big open spaces with lights.”

Mark Tillman sits on a carriage step at The Village Inn that notes the restaurant dates back to 1824. The new addition is in the back right. It should be ready for the holidays.

The main meeting room at The Village Inn has hand-hewn beams. Those supports were were shaped by axes and machetes nearly 200 years ago. Tillman displays many artifacts from the bygone era – saddles, harnesses, food barrels and many historical photos. He has the restaurant’s liquor license framed from the early 1900s. In 1905, the license cost $150, a fee payable to the state.

The new addition will blend in with the historic site. Tillman said many customers have brought in community artifacts over the years that he put in storage because he didn’t have enough space to display them. He will soon have more room to show some of those relics.

“The new space will blend in,” he said. “We don’t want to take away from the aesthetics.”

The restaurant has been in the Tillman family for 64 years. Mark is the third generation owner, following his grandfather Sam and Mark’s father Bill. Mark is determined to see the business to its 200th anniversary in 2024.

He knows the business is important for the community, providing jobs for 50 people and drawing visitors from outside the area. Many teen-agers get their first jobs washing dishes and bussing tables at the restaurant. Many of his wait staff have stayed with the Village Inn for decades. Twelve of his employees have a combined 300-plus years of working at the restaurant.

Tillman has a good relationship with the neighboring Cobblestone Museum, which is increasingly hosting weddings at the historic Cobblestone Church, which was built in 1834. People who get married there will soon be able to have wedding receptions at the Village Inn, which also operates the Fairhaven Inn, offering lodging.

“This route was once known as the Honeymoon Trail,” Tillman said, noting the close drive to Niagara Falls. “We’re trying to recreate that.”