LEFT: Gathered around a new table in the bar area of the Elias Inn are Alex Allon, Executive Director of the RDA with Mike and Lydia Sobol, new owners of the Elias Inn. On the walls are two of the recently cleaned and rehung mounts.
RIGHT: The brand new kitchen made possible, in-part, with a loan/grant from the RDA. With the additional funds, Mike Sobol could design and build a new kitchen from scratch, optimizing the space for maximum efficiency. (Note: The arrow is pointing to the original 1933 floor found in the women's restroom. Women were not allowed in the bar area, they stayed in the dining room and rang a buzzer for service and used the restroom off the dining room.)
It was March 2020, the first time Lydia and Mike Sobol learned that the Elias Inn Supper Club in Watertown was for sale. A year later, it was still for sale yet Lydia said she was, “still not ready.” Six months later they came for dinner and fell in love.
“Clearly this is a successful business where the owners were ready to retire and we didn’t want to see it become something else or go away,” Lydia observed. “The few times we came here for dinner, it became abundantly clear how important this place is to the community and how much people value it. We want to continue the legacy of this place,” Lydia added.
In 2018, the Sobol’s opened Sobie’s Restaurant in Oconomowoc. Serving a farm-to-table menu, the Sobol’s believe in keeping things simple, cooking from scratch, leading by example, and living honestly. They believe that supporting local business and local agriculture keeps a community healthy and strong, and they want to do their part to contribute to their community and the greater good. “The best way we know how [to contribute] is through food and hospitality,” said Mike.
Mike, who has a background in French cuisine, said “We’re keeping the entire [Elias Inn] menu the same minus the talapia.” He reassures diners, “the lazy Susan, Friday night fish fry, and Prime Rib on Saturday (by reservation only) will be kept the same.” To get it right, they joined Elias in the kitchen to learn how to make the recipes.
Lydia continues, “We’ve been told, don’t change anything. We ask, ‘can we change the carpet?’…yes, but don’t change the tartar sauce!”
The renovations that have taken place over the last three months are beginning to wind down. Walls are being painted; new carpet installed; tables from the original Powers Inn were found in the basement and are being restored and returned to the dining room; a light fixture with a cracked globe is being fixed and will return to a place of honor over the bar; and all of the animals have received a good cleaning and will be remounted on the walls.
Using funds from the Watertown Redevelopment Authority (RDA), the Sobol’s were able to “do it right” said Mike. The RDA loan and grant are “a bit of a comfort to have,” Mike continued. “It helped us to be able to do it right in terms of restoration, we didn’t have to cut corners, we had extra funds…it’s nice to do it right,” agreed Lydia.
Using an RDA loan and grant to bring the electrical and plumbing up to code, the Sobol’s saved enough of their own funds to completely gut the kitchen down to the studs. “Walls were redone, new stainless was put in, all the equipment is new…it’s all brand new,” said Lydia. “Mike’s expertise is in kitchen design,” she added. “He designs a kitchen around the menu so it’s really efficient.”
“Mike and Lydia’s project is a perfect use of the RDA loan/grant program,” said Alex Allon, RDA Executive Director. “The program is designed to incentivize reinvestment in the downtown area, to foster business growth and expansion, and to update and preserve historic structures which increases the overall economic vitality of downtown Watertown. I am so proud of the program and the good I’ve seen being done by funding both old and new businesses in Watertown.”
So, when is Elias Inn reopening? “That’s my least favorite question,” said Lydia. Right now Elias Inn is on track to have a soft, invitation only opening on May 11 and then open to the public on Friday the 13th of May.