At Storrowton Tavern, History and Fine Dining Come TogetherThree things prompted Andrew Calvanese to leave Suffield Country Club in 2003 and take over the food operation at Storrowton Tavern in West Springfield with his sons Vincent and Donald, after operating the Connecticut club’s restaurant and pub for 18 years.
“First, there was the challenge of revitalizing an incredible establishment. Second, it was a great opportunity for my two sons. And third, there are the memories at the Tavern, not only that I have, but that many other people had,” he told BusinessWest. “I love this place because of the personal feelings I have attached to it. And I love people, and I wanted to bring it back for them.”
The historic tavern that is a vital part of Storrowton Village was closed for two years before the Calvanese family reopened the doors, serving New England foods that have been enjoyed there for more than a century.
“Today, there is life here again, and I am very proud of what we have accomplished; this establishment is more than 200 years old, and it’s open once more. The restaurant business is hard work and takes a lot of dedication, but I was made for this,” said Andrew, who began his restaurant career 47 years ago when he was hired as a weekend cleaning person making $1 per hour at Friendly’s Ice Cream in Springfield.
The Calvanese family is happy to be in the restaurant business together and run Storrowton as a true family operation. Andrew handles public relations, while Donald is the general manager, Vincent is the executive chef, and his son Vincent is a cook.
They all love the business and believe they couldn’t find a better place to be. Before coming to West Springfield, Donald ran the food service at Wilbraham Country Club with his late mother, Doreen Calvanese, and Andrew and Vincent were at the helm of Suffield Country Club’s restaurant and pub.
However, the sons wanted to work together at a place that would allow them to grow. Donald said they looked at many restaurants before reading in a newspaper that the Eastern States Exposition sales department was looking for someone to reopen Storrowton. But nothing had seemed right — until they set foot on the old tavern grounds.
“I fell in love with it the first time I saw it,” Donald said, adding he had never eaten there. “The location is great, the building is great, and its history is interesting. The floors are uneven, and it’s impossible to heat and cool, but it has a lot of character, and we work with it.”
Andrew said the people at the Big E liked the concept of having a family run it, and the decision was made. He is proud that they were chosen out of a field of more than 40 applicants, and calls their relationship with the Big E “incredible … we are like a big family with them.”
Donald agreed and said exposition staff members played a role in helping them get the restaurant back on its feet. “It’s so nice to have a restaurant like this open again, especially with all of the chains going up. There is a lot of competition, but things are going well.”
Wayne McCary, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, says the Calvanese family fit the bill.
“Storrowton Tavern is a unique part of the culture of Eastern States Exposition and its year-round events, and it was critical to create a business relationship with partners who would operate the Tavern in conjunction with the Exposition itself as well as the many shows on our grounds,” he said. “The Calvanese family is a great choice and represent the tradition of Storrowton Tavern well.”
Course of Action
However, it took a tremendous amount of work to ready the historic buildings for use again. But the family worked as a team and began renovating and cleaning even before negotiations were finished. They got down on their hands and knees and scrubbed floors, painted rooms and ceilings, put in new carpeting, and renovated the entire kitchen.
In November 2003, after months of hard work, they opened the doors Thanksgiving week and were thrilled to have 600 people enjoy the holiday there.
This year, they will feed more than 1,000 at both a sit-down meal inside the old building and at a buffet in the Carriage House across the green.
Andrew says people love the ambience of the old tavern, and they treat it and the people who come there like family. He filled a large bookcase near the doorway with part of his late wife’s collection of more than 1,000 cookbooks for people to peruse while waiting for a table, and recently finished restaining the paneled walls, which took months of painstaking labor. He and his second wife got married there, and Storrowton is his favorite place because of the “romance here,” he said.
The old tavern has a fascinating history, as it is actually two buildings that were joined together. One is Atkinson Tavern, which was built around 1789 at Atkinson Hollow in the town of Prescott. The original owner was John Atkinson, Prescott’s last surviving Revolutionary War veteran, who used it as a store, tavern, and home for his family.
Andrew likes to point out that the Vermont Room, located on the second floor above the pub and tavern, was once used as lodging for guests who stayed there.
In 1928, when the state took Prescott by eminent domain along with three other towns in the Swift River Valley to create the Quabbin Reservoir, Helen Storrow had the building moved to the Early American village she was creating in West Springfield. In 1930, the Baptist meeting house, believed to be built around 1822, was brought to Storrowton Village from Southwick. It was joined to the tavern in 1957, doubling the size and scope of the restaurant.
The tavern has five dining rooms, which are furnished with period antiques. Andrew said his family members brought many of their own heirlooms there, which include a set of Gone with the Wind commemorative plates and a glass case filled with Hummel figurines.
The Calvaneses also took over the operation of the Carriage House, a modern banquet facility which sits on the other side of the green across from the tavern. It accomodates parties of up to 350 people.
Donald loves the atmosphere and the fact that the tavern is part of the village. “You can leave the restaurant with a glass of wine and walk around the green or sit on a park bench. It looks like something out of the Colonial days,” he said, adding that they like seeing patrons enjoying the grounds.
Vincent also loves the diversity of events held on the Exposition grounds, which add to their business. “What I love about Storrowton is that there is always action here. We can have a post-funeral reception in the afternoon and a wedding at night. Plus, there are events such as the horse shows and the Big E,” he said.
Andrew’s career in the restaurant business began as a cleaning person at Friendly’s. A month later, he was promoted to dishwasher, and, a month after that, he became the evening shift manager. “Within three months, I was the highest-paid part-time employee at the store, making $2.50 an hour; the food business just fit me,” he said.
After that, he spent 20 years as delicatessan manager at Gus & Paul’s Bakery and Deli in Springfield, where he discovered not only how much he enjoyed working with people, but how fulfilling it was to help them create memorable life events. His next move was to Suffield Country Club, where he stayed until moving to Storrowton.
His passion for the business was passed on to Donald and Vincent, who both worked as dishwashers at the Mountain Laurel Restaurant in Enfield, Conn. when they were young teens. Donald went on to become a waiter at area restaurants, then moved on to Mount Holyoke College, where he worked as chef/manager of its food-service operation for four years, before spending four years at Wilbraham Country Club.
Vincent was introduced to the business at age 12, when he helped out at a wedding his parents were catering. “I remember how happy we made people,” he said, adding that knowing he plays a role in people’s memorable life events continues to be rewarding, even though he is behind the scenes. During the course of his career, he worked at several area restaurants and opened one in Haydenville named DaVinci’s, which he operated for two years.
At one point, he was offered the position of head chef at Storrowton Tavern, but didn’t take it because he didn’t want to leave his family members.
Family is extremely important to the Calvanese men and women, and so is history.
“I feel like this is my second home because, when I came in here, I thought about my personal memories. And now, we are creating them for others,” Andrew said. “When we hold a party here, it’s like having a party in our own home. This is a landmark that we have revitalized, and so many people are happy this is open again.”
Vincent agreed. “We have something special here. We are working owners and always have been. We are here just to make people happy. It’s our goal, and what we want to continue to do. When I was first offered a job here, I didn’t want to leave my family. But I somehow felt like I belonged here, and here I am now. Operating Storrowton is a challenge, but one that is interesting, due to the many events staged on the Exposition grounds.”
Andrew says many people think Storrowton Tavern is open only during the Big E, and some come back every year at that time, making their own history. But memories have always been made within the tavern’s walls, and that tradition will continue, which suits him just fine.