Old Yarmouth Inn owners celebrate two decades of successBy Lisa Cavanaugh
Sheila FitzGerald pinched herself as she raised her glass, inscribed “1996 to 2016” and filled with Veuve Clicquot champagne. FitzGerald and her husband, Arpad Voros, are celebrating 20 years of owning the venerable Old Yarmouth Inn, a restaurant on Route 6A in Yarmouth Port. They bought the business in 1996, when the inn was 300 years old. The couple had wanted to find something on a small scale, “but there was nothing that spoke to us,” says FitzGerald.
When the inn became available, it was appealing to them because of the living quarters upstairs. They ended up selling everything they owned in order to make things work. “The first couple of years were a struggle,” says FitzGerald, “which has made us appreciate where we are now.”
Initially, the couple began with a slightly more Italian-centric menu, but they soon reverted back to the more traditional American cuisine that has been the mainstay of the inn for centuries, albeit with their own added flair. Duck has been on the menu since they opened, but the presentations change seasonally with different sauces and side dishes. “We serve a lot of seafood,” says FitzGerald, “including our version of the popular haddock, scallop and shrimp trio, which has been on nearly every menu here since the 1920s.”
Another aspect to the inn that they inherited was the longstanding sense that it was haunted. Decades of ghostly occurrences—including visions of the owner from the 1800s inspecting the current foyer—didn’t deter FitzGerald and Voros from staying. They never feel any antagonism from the unearthly spirits, and the eeriness appeals to customers. Whenever anyone asks about the ghosts, FitzGerald will happily share the stories. After they stopped offering overnight accommodations 10 years ago, the couple started a restaurant renovation. They expanded the bar and tavern areas and also enclosed and enlarged a sun porch to make a formal dining room that, with its black-and-white “country life” toile-covered walls, is perfect for weddings and other celebrations. “The renovation made the building what I always wanted to see when I turned the bend in the road. It was always charming, but now it looks like the place you want to go,” says Voros.
FitzGerald and Voros have managed to keep employee turnover low and retain many of the same workers for years. The couple is still mourning the loss of their dear friend and chef, Dave Woodbury, who died suddenly in 2015. “Dave was the greatest guy to ever work in a kitchen. He wasn’t classically trained, but he knew food. He elevated us to where we wanted to be because he understood it took a team,” says FitzGerald.
Voros says their focus is on keeping things fresh. His particular passion is curating the restaurant’s award-winning wine list and he’s proud to offer premium selections at a fair price, allowing customers to experiment. FitzGerald says they used to cater primarily to early bird diners, many choosing a pre-theater meal before heading to the Cape Playhouse in nearby Dennis. “We still have a wonderful core base of customers from when we opened, but our demographic has expanded and we get the 8 and 9 o’clock reservations that we didn’t have 20 years ago.”
She is grateful to all their clientele and especially enjoys mingling with them. “At nighttime, when I get to walk around and socialize, that’s my favorite part.” Both she and Voros look forward to the next 20 years of keeping customers satisfied. “We never get tired of making things better.”