I can’t tell you how many people I have told about the “new” Mansion Inn. “Where is it?” they say, with crinkled brows and cocked heads. “You know it,” I say, “on Main Street in New Hope, next to Marsha Brown’s.”
The reason they can’t visually locate it in their brains is because the Mansion Inn has been a non-entity for so long. Physically there but not on the local restaurant map and almost a ghost house in appearance.
That’s all changed now thanks to the historic Inn’s new owners, Kris Tomasulo and Joe Grande, who renovated the property and launched the restaurant, Royal T’s at the Mansion, in early October 2016.
Good food brings people together. Such was the case with Kris and Joe, both Wall Street professionals for over two decades. They spent years doing business together which involved, of course, trying out the latest New York restaurants, checking out new chefs and digging in to a lot of good food.
Over the years, they began to cultivate a “best of” menu, fantasizing about the day they could open their own restaurant. Munching on dim sum in Chinatown – how cool would it be to combine those perfect, chewy dumplings with French Onion Soup? Or take that crunchy egg roll and fill it with mouth-watering pastrami from Katz’ Deli on the Lower East Side of Manhattan?
Goodbye Wall Street, Hello Main Street
In New Hope, everyone knows everyone, and outsiders, quite frankly, are not always trusted. Two guys with Wall Street money taking over a primo property on Main Street? Hmmn. What’s the deal, people ask suspiciously.
But I think we’ve got a winner here. Kris and Joe have taken a sadly neglected historic building and poured a lot of money – and heart and sweat – into it, all hands-on and passionate every step of the way.
Last May they took over the Mansion Inn with a “lease to buy” arrangement and have been renovating non-stop. And not just some paint and new chairs. Because the last owner left suddenly last January without winterizing the property, Kris and Joe found a four-foot hole in the wall from pipes that burst three floors up.
“There wasn’t a straight wall in the place,” Kris says. “The roof was damaged, generations of horrific paint had to come off and a family of turkey vultures was living in the fireplace. Pretty much anything and everything you can imagine.”
Stop by now and you’ll find a simple, elegant dining room, and five renovated Inn rooms and bathrooms ready for guests.
“The house is a piece of art,” Kris explains, “and what I really wanted to do with the paint and with the molding is to just present it. Gray and white, with high gloss that really pops. We didn’t want to over pretty it or over decor it. Less is more.”
What’s American food?
Peruse the menu and it becomes clear that these guys have spent some quality time eating in New York City. Not just Asian-inspired dishes like the light, fresh tuna tartare, or the egg rolls with authentic New York pastrami.
Woven into the menu are Italian touches and downright American favorites. How about Clam Chowder Gnocchi? (What a great idea!)
The appetizer, Smashing Toasts, is Royal T’s take on the classic crostini. You have your choice of arugula, tomato and burrata cheese, or Kennett Square wild mushrooms and goat cheese, or butternut squash with caramelized onion, or broccoli rabe with long hots and aged provolone cheese.
“We tried to find something for everyone on the menu – besides filling it with the stuff we love to eat,” Kris says with a smile. “I think when you are doing American you have the creative liberty because it’s influenced by so many cultures.”
And Chef Denise Gesek is the perfect one to accomplish this. In addition to her extensive culinary experience, she brings both her Italian and Spanish heritage to the menu.
So imagine line-caught halibut served over forbidden black rice with a saffron sauce, or pan-seared scallops over pumpkin risotto, two of the new restaurant’s most popular dishes.
Ingredients, ingredients, ingredients
“Where others are probably more bottom line focused when opening a new restaurant, we are most interested in getting the best product,” Kris explains.
For instance, their dry-aged proprietary burger blend that goes into the Royal T Burger, also a big hit with customers.
“When we asked our meat purveyor about this, he said, ‘You guys realize this is twice as much?’ And we said, yes, we realize how much it is going to cost but we are trying to make a point here with our food. We are trying to build a whole experience here.”
So the truffle fries, served with the flat-iron steak? “We use real truffles. We both are so anti-truffle oil. So we shave black truffles and make our own oil.”
That goes for the bar too. A cozy, friendly place, it seats only nine, which would seem to be almost an afterthought. But Joe and Kris hired Charlie Townsend as the beverage director, a Level 3 Sommelier and experienced mixologist to create an extensive, creative drink list with lots of ingredients and everything made to order.
Passion, consistency and details
Values are – or at least should be – the foundation of every business. Good values, like consistency and quality, should permeate every aspect of the operation.
“If customers are going to trust you with their Saturday night out, we owe it to them to give the best experience possible”.
From years of eating expensive meals in New York, Kris and Joe realized that details and consistency are important.
“Especially with the price points of New York restaurants, you really wanted to feel something besides satisfying your appetite when you went out. You spent a lot of money and it was a whole experience – part the chairs that you sat in, or the silverware that you used. I don’t think there is a detail that is too small in the restaurant business.”
Part of that consistency, in their view, is owners that are on the premises, working hard and setting an example.
“I think there is a comfort level when you go into an establishment and the owners are there. I’m in the kitchen most of the night; Joe is running the front of the house.
“Besides creating a better customer experience, I also think it creates a better work environment. We’re not the two guys sitting at the bar eating and drinking our profits every night. We’re running food, or I’m on the grill, or Joe is setting tables.
“I also think it sets a higher expectation for both the people who work for us and for the customers that come in and see us here every day. They know that there is consistency.
“That was one of the key words with everyone we hired, we really instilled a belief in consistency – doing everything the same way every day, tables set a certain way, the dishes come out a certain way.
“We have put a ton of effort into the small details and pleasantly they have all been noticed. People appreciate the finer details from our plate presentation to our red wine glasses to our sphered ice cubes that we serve in our distilled cocktails, to the art on the wall.
“We have a motto here that if you are going to do anything, do it passionately”.
“We have also learned that you never stop learning in this business. I have equated opening a restaurant to building a 747 jetliner. There are a little million pieces that go into one big finished product, all that may seem small and irrelevant at the time, end up being big and important.”
Royal T’s at the Mansion
9 South Main St
New Hope, PA 18938