How do you make a good thing better?
How do you sustain, and even improve upon, the solid
reputation of a Virginia travel icon, The Inn at Gristmill Square in Warm
That’s the challenge facing John and Kate Loeffler, the
husband-and-wife team who purchased the inn and its Waterwheel Restaurant in
2011. Both have rich experience in the hospitality business at first-class
facilities such as The Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va., and The
Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.
As John explains, “There were already so many good things
about the Gristmill, we just wanted to add new memories for our guests and
continue the tradition.”
Kate adds, “Our goal is to add our footprint and create a
true five-star experience.”
A water-powered mill, first operated in 1771 and rebuilt
in 1900, is the focal point of the gristmill complex. The restaurant is
housed on the first floor of the mill. The original mill boss’s office is
now a charming pub called Simon Kenton Pub. John encourages guests to
explore the wine cellar below the restaurant to select their own wines for
dinner. Visiting the wine cellar also affords the opportunity to see the
gears and other millwork mechanisms.
A Taste of History
Guests enter the inn’s historic surroundings through a
courtyard of fresh flowers. Towering above the courtyard is a picturesque
silo. The silo, along with a converted hardware store and a blacksmith shop,
provides space for nine guest suites and rooms. Two other 19th-century
buildings offer a selection of eight more suites and rooms, tastefully
decorated with period antiques and appointments. In one room, the wall
siding and beams are from Fort Dinwiddie, a 1755 fort that once protected
the Bath County Valley.
The restaurant menu draws guests from far and wide.
Others visit the Gristmill for the total experience, which may include a spa
“Our goal,” says Kate, “was not to take anything away
from the Gristmill’s gourmet heritage. We have kept some of the traditional
favorites, such as the appetizer of roasted gold and red beets, and an
entrée of local trout. We have added a prosciutto-wrapped salmon and a
number of other new dishes.”
John points out the benefits of being in an area with a
rich bounty of fresh vegetables, cattle and pork producers, availing the
freshest local food ingredients.
For my dinner, I select an appetizer of smoked trout. My
dinner companion, who has a very conservative palate, selects the
traditional French onion soup. I am very tempted by the other appetizer
selections, Little Creek clams and the roasted gold and red beets.
To refresh the palate, I’m served a Caesar salad with a
“just right” dressing. My dinner companion is served a house salad with a
very appealing visual presentation. For the entrée, I order the salmon
wrapped in prosciutto ham. The salmon is moist and the prosciutto adds a
crispy sensation. The salmon rests on a bed of lemon risotto. It’s an entrée
I highly recommend.
To my surprise, my dinner companion (with whom I’ve dined
for nearly 50 years) selects the Pappardelle Bolognese with a rich
meat-and-pork sauce and a base of homemade wide pasta. I expected her to
select the grilled filet mignon. I guess surprises from time-to-time make
As you know from my past articles, dessert is required to
complete the experience — not that I need too much encouragement upon seeing
the extensive dessert menu. With very little debate, my dinner
companion orders Gristmill chocolate cake. I, on the other hand, have
the crème brulée, which is, to my surprise, served with strawberry sorbet.
What a delight!
My mom always said that to have a great dining
experience, you needed great food, charming ambiance, and great service. We
experienced a delectable, intimate dinner, with Debby providing that great
service. She has worked for all three owners of the Gristmill and validates
John’s belief that one of the assets of the Gristmill is, and has been,
dedicated employees. Debby shows a wealth of knowledge about the menu and is
pleased to guide us toward excellent food selections.
Given their relatively short tenure at the helm of the
Gristmill, I believe John and Kate are well on their way to creating a
successful five-star experience.
The Gristmill is open for dinner at 5:30 p.m. seven days
a week. No lunch. Overnight guests are served a continental breakfast in
their rooms, and that is what I call real room service!
Waterwheel Restaurant at The Inn at Gristmill Square •
124 Old Mill Rd., Warm Springs, VA (540) 839-2231