Restored Bent’s seen as big draw for Orleans County

Photos by Tom Rivers: Chef Lionel Heydel works in the kitchen of the newly-opened Harvest Restaurant in Bent’s Opera House. Windows in the two dining rooms allow diners to watch chefs in the kitchen prepare their meal.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 9 July 2021 at 2:40 pm

MEDINA – Restoring the historic Bent’s Opera House has been a monumental project for local entrepreneur Roger Hungerford, but years of work came to fruition two weeks ago with the opening of the Harvest Restaurant.

Chef Lionel Heydel, who taught at the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School, plated up elegant meals to a steady stream of diners.

Guests were greeted by Hungerford’s wife Heather, who presented each lady with a red rose. Those celebrating a special occasion were given an arrangement of flowers.

The first floor of the Bent’s Opera House has been transformed into a fine dining venue after the site was last used as a bank.

While the menu is limited, the chef stresses it will change seasonally with produce being grown locally.

Beer and wine were available the first weekend, but future plans include having a bartender and full selection of mixed drinks.

An added touch was a violinist who played throughout the evening.

After eating, guests were invited to tour all three floors of the building, including the 10 designer-themed hotel rooms and the historic opera house. That will not be allowed once the hotel rooms are rented, although Heather has said in the future they may have Sunday brunches, which could include a tour of the opera house.

The opera house is ready to rent for special occasions and hotel rooms are also ready to welcome guests.

Lynne Menz of Point Breeze and Kelly Kiebala of Medina were among the guests who visited Harvest on opening weekend. Menz was celebrating a birthday and received an arrangement of flowers and a box of Della’s chocolates.

“I have such gratitude to Roger for taking the initiative to save this building and for taking it off the hands of the Orleans Renaissance Group,” said Menz, who works as the marketing manager for the Orleans County Tourism Department. “I was overwhelmed with gratitude and tearful joy when I entered the Opera House for the first time this past weekend – and on my birthday, no less. Just about eight years ago, I was giving tours of the building in its decrepit shape and promoting its history and potential.

“I couldn’t imagine how we, the Orleans Renaissance Group, were going to afford to bring this gem back to life. Between the opera house, the boutique hotel and Harvest Restaurant, I was absolutely thrilled to see a whole new level of class and distinction the Hungerfords have created on the four corners of Medina. As the coordinator for Orleans County Tourism, I am anxious to begin promoting Bent’s Opera House as a destination worth traveling long distances to experience. Roger and Heather have truly raised the bar in our region.”

ORG had originally been given the building by Bank of America, not realizing the deteriorating condition of the building. When it became evident they would not have the money to save the building, they sought out Hungerford.

Restoring the door to the former bank vault and adding some flourishes to that door is one of the touches that makes the Bent’s a one-of-kind destination.

Kiebala, who is director of Orleans County Job Development, said dining there was an unforgettable experience.

While choices were limited to two fish entrees, or beef, pork or chicken, Kiebala said she thought the menu was very well thought out. Chef Heydel was even able to accommodate a vegetarian.

“The dining room was spacious and comfortable and the servers were friendly and efficient,” Kiebala said.

She also raved about the tour of the hotel rooms.

“The combinations of elements were unique but they all pulled together wonderfully,” she said.

Georgia Thomas of Medina brought guests from Lockport. They all thought their meal was phenomenal and said they will be back. Thomas said the crème brulee was out of this world.

“To think there is something like this in Medina is absolutely awesome,” Thomas said. “My cousins were absolutely overwhelmed.”

Harvest is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Reservations for dining or for the hotel may be made by calling (585) 318-2110.

The Bent’s Opera House looms large in downtown Medina. The building has undergone a major transformation.