'There's a story everywhere," says White Horse Inn owner Victor Dzenowagis of his 164-year-old restaurant in Metamora, opening Monday. With a history that dates back to 1850 and a renovation that took almost two years, it's no wonder that nearly every wall, bar top, and door has some significance.
Dzenowagis and his wife Linda Egeland are veteran restaurateurs and longtime residents of Metamora in Lapeer County. When the White Horse Inn — the state's oldest restaurant — closed in 2012 in need of much care, the couple decided they had to do something.
"It's always been here and the thought of it not being here was very unpleasant for all of us," Egeland says. "Someone, I thought, should buy it and redo it, but we didn't see a line-up of people wanting to do that, so we talked to the Downtown Development Authority who gave us a grant, and we talked to the MEDC (Michigan Economic Development Corporation) and found out there was some money available."
"There was a lot of work involved ... but we decided that the White Horse should stay (open) in Metamora and that meant that we became the next caretakers and we had to do a lot of improvements to ensure she'll be here for another 100 years."
The front dining area of the White Horse is all that remains of the original structure. Downstairs there are tables for four and six, and upstairs — where the guests of the inn once stayed — will eventually be a banquet area.
The main dining and bar room with a fireplace waiting area is renovated. The wood trimmings, natural lighting and equestrian-themed decor, along with the smell of burning wood, make the refurbished White Horse a cozy destination.
Egeland proudly shows off the intricate wood flooring, designed and created by Michigan craftsman John Yarema.
"He heard about the project and said he wanted in," Egeland says. "I said 'John, we're not the Kennedys, we can't afford you' ... he said, 'I'm in on this, you guys are my neighbors, we'll make it work out.' "
The impressive design of the floor looks like a tree that "grows" out of the dining area's main wall. This wall is the focal point of the room because of its grand mural of wild horses, painted by European artist Jean Louis Sauvat.
"This is a masterpiece," says Egeland, who says she wanted the mural done on the wall because she wants it to be part of the White Horse for as long as possible.
Another piece of equestrian art hangs behind the bar, which is made from wood that was salvaged from the old White Horse building. An oil painting of hunters on horseback painted by Weatherly Melchers Stroh hangs behind the bar, significant because not only did Stroh grow up on a horse farm in Michigan, but also because she is a descendent of the Stroh's Brewing family.
There are other quaint details about the renovation. The stone used to create the fireplace is from a nearby church. Doors from the old inn rooms are now in the renovated restrooms. The restrooms also have vintage lighting fixtures and antique mirrors, but the sinks are state-of-the-art, with water faucet and hand dryer all in one spout.
Dzenowagis and Egeland recruited chef Jason McFall to execute the White Horse's American comfort food menu. The bill of fare is a mix of trendy items (hummus, Brussels sprouts, brie and apple salad) and classic staples (prime rib, chicken pot pie, Angus burgers). Prices are middle of the road, with burgers around $10 and entrees $13-$30.
"He gets that it's not going to be fussy fine dining," says Egeland of McFall. "It's gotta be just good, hot, well-cooked comfort foods ... steak, salmon ... we're not going to be five-star dining because people won't pay that."
If the White Horse itself isn't quaint enough for you, horse-drawn carriage rides are also offered around the village. Available on weekends and by reservation, the rides also act as a mini-tour of Metamora, trotting past buildings of historical significance.
White Horse Inn
1 E. High, Metamora
Plans can change, so check www.facebook.com/whitehorseinnmetamora for exact opening date and hours. Hours are expected to be 11 a.m. daily for lunch and dinner.