By TIM LATSHAW
OBSERVER Assistant News Editor
Thursday morning, Jeff Gambino entered The White Inn as an interested party. The next day, following a marathon session of dealings and negotiations, he held the building's keys.
The White Inn’s dining room will likely remain closed until a new liquor license is obtained.
According to the local businessman, about 95 percent of the contingencies were satisfied as of Friday afternoon and closing was expected to take place within 60 days.
"The contract has been signed and reviewed by both attorneys and approved, and the money for closure is in escrow," Gambino said.
The purchase of The White Inn from Brooklyn-based Simshabs Hospitality has largely lifted the cloud of concern that recently settled over the future of the historic landmark. Gambino said his intentions are to restore The White Inn to the look and atmosphere by which most people remember it and reopen its services as soon as possible.
"They wanted to shut the building down and cancel all reservations throughout the holiday season ... somewhat winterize it," Gambino said. "My concern with that is it would do irreparable damage both to the building as well as the reputation. ... Our first concern was to get the building so it wouldn't get padlocked and that's why this thing was in such urgency."
The hotel portion of the facility is expected to reopen by Dec. 10. A new corporation for management of the rooms has been formed and the previous staff will still be on hand. Guests whose reservations were canceled will be called back and re-offered their stays.
The food and drink side of The White Inn, however, may take more time to return as the recently lost means to legally sell alcohol is reclaimed.
"The biggest issue that we're facing is the fact that the prior owners did not apply for a liquor license," Gambino said. "Therefore, the liquor board came in and seized the old license, which makes it harder for us because you can't get a temporary (license) until you're approved. Once they come and take the license, you can't transfer it."
According to Gambino, no food will be served until the liquor license is restored. He will meet with the board Monday to see if the process may be accelerated due to the circumstances surrounding its removal and the building's change of ownership.
Plans for renovations and restorations to The White Inn run from $600,000-700,000 under Gambino's estimations, with priority going toward replacing the multi-patched roof when weather permits. The exterior of the building is also planned to be restored to its monochromatic shades, removing the blue and gold paint from its columns and bringing back cast-iron fixtures.
The inside is expected to receive similar color reversions, including painting over the blue walls of the dining area. The rooms will be modernized but Gambino said he plans to keep the motif close to what people remember.
"I'm well aware that everybody loves The White Inn for what it was and my intention is not to change that," he said. "It will be to upgrade carpets, update bathroom fixtures, new blow dryers, bedspreads - all that stuff. I'm going to try and keep some of the wallpaper that's in good shape because I know some of it has a history. There are some things written on the walls by some famous people; things like that that mean stuff to people, and I would appreciate it if anybody who knows any history about any of this, if they would e-mail us and let us know because I want to keep as much of that as possible."
Gambino and his wife, Melanie, hold ties both to the region and the hospitality business. Moving from Fredonia to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. about 10 years ago, they acquired Ocean Manor Resort, a 190-unit hotel, under distressed sale. The building was renovated over the next 3 years and eventually sold. The Gambinos invested in other Florida real estate development and still own a bar in that state.
The Gambinos owned a summer home in Fredonia but decided to fully move back, Jeff said, so their two children could attend NCCS. They purchased and renovated the former Hook & Ladder Deli building on Church Street, which now contains Nomad's House eatery, and expect to close on Stefan's Marina in the near future. Gambino was also a former owner of Village Limits bar, now Valentine's Place.
Gambino's mother and grandmother once worked at The White Inn and now he will, too, trying to restore the great potential he says he sees in the longstanding site.
"This, in my opinion, has the potential to be one of the most successful little businesses in Fredonia," Gambino said. "It should be the crown jewel. ... This thing should really be our pride and joy."