MIDDLETOWN — Kristen Sluss is jumping in feet first in her new job managing the historic Wayside Inn in Middletown.

After working at Buffalo Wild Wings for the past seven years with experience most recently as an assistant general manager, Sluss took over as general manager of the Wayside Inn earlier this month.

Her fiancé and the inn’s executive chef, Travis Ross, told her the Wayside Inn was looking for a new manager and he thought she’d be good for the job. So Sluss met with the inn’s co-owners, John and Bob Hotaling, and they hired her.

“Right now we’ve been focusing a little more on the tavern and the Hunt Room because we’re short-staffed. So after having run a sports bar, that’s helped out a lot,” Sluss said on Friday. “I know a lot about the liquors and the beers coming through that people like.”

At her previous job, she also worked in the back of the house, where she picked up valuable skills that can be used managing the Wayside Inn.

“I learned a lot about labor cost, and I’ve been watching food costs for years now,” she said. “I worked to maintain that and it was one of my main responsibilities (at Buffalo Wild Wings). The owners (of the inn) were impressed at what I could do with costs at a big chain restaurant, so we’re trying to start working on stuff like that here right now.”

Sluss said working in a restaurant comes naturally to her. She said she “never really decided on one (career) route” to pursue when she was growing up, but one of her dreams was to have her own restaurant and be the chef.

She said she never went to culinary school, but when she moved back to Virginia a few years ago she decided to get a job cooking at Buffalo Wild Wings. She took that job and moved up the ladder to management.

“I just started stepping up more and more and asking for more responsibility. As I asked for it, they gave it to me,” she said. “Without Buffalo Wild Wings, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My bosses there taught me a lot.”

Taking over the Wayside Inn is no simple task, Sluss admitted. It comes with plenty of history and a yearning for the venerable establishment being what it once was. That excites Sluss, though.

“I think it’s exciting to take over because the community loves it so much. Making people happy and bringing back a place that people know and love, that’s what we’re trying to do,” she said. “It’s a fun place to be. There’s so many different things to do here. There’s the inn side of things, there’s a bar, there’s fine dining and football days. There’s history, and weddings and ballroom events. You’re never doing the same thing every day. That’s what’s really exciting about it for me.”

The Wayside Inn originally opened in 1797 as Wilkenson’s Tavern as a stagecoach stop — “a relay station where fresh horses were readied and bounce-weary passengers could rest and refresh themselves,” according to the inn’s website.

In the 1960s, banker and real estate developer Leo Bernstein assumed ownership of the Wayside Inn. He revitalized the property and helped move it the forefront of historic fixtures in the region. The property features 22 bedrooms, several dining halls and reading rooms, a large kitchen, outdoor seating, a tavern and more.

“The history of this place is something I’m very interested in,” Sluss said. “Anytime I hear someone talking about a piece of history, I’m paying attention. Hearing all of the ghost stories and stories of people who have come through here, that’s been a lot of fun.”

Sluss said the management staff works well together. Right now, there’s a focus on hiring servers and bartenders. Staff is also hard at work planning events.

“As we get more staff in, the more events we can plan,” Sluss said. “It’ll be really cool come summertime.”

Part of her job includes working with her fiancé. She said they work well together.

“I know at some of my previous jobs, I’ve always had to be right in the kitchen watching what’s going on. It can feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions,” Sluss said. “Here, I know I can walk away from the kitchen and know it’s fine because he’s there.”

Sluss oversees everything at the inn, but the Hotalings are very involved as well, she said.

“They don’t come at us with, ‘You need to do this.’ They’re more asking us what we think of things and helping find ideas that works with the staff that we have,” she said. “They’ve been great.”

Taking over such a historic landmark that is now on its third manager in just over a year can bring plenty of pressure to succeed, but Sluss said she and the staff are taking things one day at a time.

“We want to bring the business in, because we love the people in the community and we want this to be a great place for them,” she said. “We want everyone to leave here happy and come back because we’re doing a great job at leaving a lasting impression.”

“I’ll take whatever kind of pressure I need to bring people back,” she added.

The inn portion of the Wayside Inn is open everyday while Larrick’s Tavern and the Hunt Room are open 4-9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Hours on Sunday could fluctuate, so Sluss said to keep an eye on the inn’s Facebook page at Wayside Inn & Larrick’s Tavern.

— Contact Matt Welch

at mwelch@winchesterstar.com

(2) comments

Unknown

All of this sounds amazing. Can't wait to check it out in person.

Doc Samson

Sure hope this works out for them!

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