The Stately Whately
This Regional Landmark Focuses on Traditional Fine Dining
In the ’60s, Stephen Kloc placed ‘Frog Legs Provencale’ on his paper menus at the Whately Inn, right next to ‘hot turkey sandwich.’
Today, the latter is nowhere to be found, but the frog legs remain, a particular favorite of traveling gourmets.
The inn, a combination restaurant, guest house, and banquet facility, is now owned by Kloc’s grandson, Stephen Kloc III, who followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather in creating a unique dining experience in the hills of Franklin County.
It’s an experience that takes into account the bucolic charm of Whately (population about 1,600), but also considers fine dining a luxury that need not be relegated to large cities and affluent arts towns.
“We’re one of the only restaurants that continues to serve full-course meals for one price,” Kloc said. “That’s an appetizer or soup, salad, entree, potato, vegetable, dessert, and coffee or tea. We hold to that colonial, classic theme, and that’s our draw. We keep customers happy, and they know they can order their favorites.”
That’s because in 25 years, the Whately Inn’s menu has barely changed. While other establishments might chase trends, this venue’s claim to fame is a wide selection of time-tested fine-dining favorites.
The inn’s biggest seller is prime rib, but that’s not to say it has cornered the market merely in the meat-and-potatoes arena. Entrees range in price from about $17 to $30, and include roast crisp duckling, Lobster Savannah, and Alaskan king crab.
Steaks, veal, and seafood dominate the menu, and many dishes are prepared with a French-American flair — deep cuts of beef with rich sauces, for instance, and scallops topped with butter and cheese. Kloc said despite sometimes higher prices, local produce is used whenever possible to draw from the region’s agricultural heritage.
The More Things Change…
“Consistency is key for us, and it’s something we’ll continue to work toward,” said Kloc, who began his career in the restaurant business as a child, learning the ropes from his grandfather and father, and later honing his skills at various eateries in Massachusetts and Florida.
“We’ve definitely made small upgrades and changes here and there, but the more things change elsewhere, the more we stay the same.”
With changing dietary trends, for example, vegetarian dishes have been added to the menu, and specials are created daily. Kloc listed a Cajun pork tenderloin known as the Bourbon Street Sizzler and Potato-crusted Salmon Oscar among some of his recent favorites. Florentines and seafood fare well, he said; anything with lobster tends to keep the kitchen slammed for the majority of the evening.
The building in which the Whately Inn operates is another draw for tourists and locals alike. The white clapboard landmark with its wrap-around verandas has been a Franklin County staple since 1880, and is located on one of the area’s more historic thoroughfares, Chestnut Plain Road, which was once a main north-south route between Albany and Boston.
Despite its small-town address, the inn is minutes from I-91, attracting skiers (December and January are its busiest months), leaf-peepers, and summer travelers alike. It’s also not far from downtown Greenfield, the Yankee Candle flagship store, and the Mohawk Trail, all popular tourist attractions that bolster the area’s hospitality businesses.
In the past, the building has housed the Whately Post Office, a switchboard for AT&T telephone service, and a general store. When Kloc’s grandfather first bought the property in 1961, it had served as a tavern for several years, and he chose to push the landmark in a slightly different direction, transforming it into a burlesque house and nightclub. The club often welcomed nationally touring performers, who sometimes flew into Whately by helicopter.
Kloc said he remembers seeing the Ink Spots perform, and also recalls selling clean towels to performers for $1 each. It was an entrepreneurial venture that reflected those of his father and grandfather before him, in addition to foreshadowing his involvement in the family business later in life.
His father owned and operated the property until 1971, when he sold it to embark on new ventures, including the former Captain’s Table in Northampton. But the Whately Inn remained on Kloc’s mind, and the family bought the property for a second time in 1980, renovated the premises, and reopened as a white tablecloth restaurant with overnight accommodations.
Kloc remembers opening day — Aug. 8 — as a new beginning for the inn.
“We did very little advertising, and attracted diners mostly by word-of-mouth,” he said. “Our family has been in the area for a long time, and that helped us create a local following.”
That strong, steady pace has continued at the restaurant, said Kloc.
Out of the Frying Pan
There’s another date that Kloc can remember without a pause — Sept. 13, 1984 — the day a fire decimated the inn’s second floor and shut down the restaurant for eight months.
“It was my first time managing here alone … my father was away,” he recalls, the memory still causing a grimace. “The design in the kitchen wasn’t right, and a broiler overheated, causing the fire. Looking back, though, it was a blessing in disguise.”
The fire reduced the number of guest rooms from 13 to four, but also prompted upgrades to the inn’s infrastructure. Since then, Kloc said there have been few major changes to the property.
The building includes a second-floor banquet room that seats 80, popular for rehearsal dinners and small weddings. The central dining room can seat about 130 people, and the inn employs about 36 full- and part-time staff throughout the year.
Kloc said there are no plans to make any major changes to the property or its services, although he admitted maintaining the business model is often a challenge in and of itself.
“There’s often a greater expense associated with staying the same,” he said, “but to us, it’s well worth it. Our growth is slow but steady, and that’s a good thing. It’s going to remain our main goal.”
That said, traveling foodies need not worry. The turkey sandwich may not have stood the test of time, but the lemon butter brown sauce on the fried frog legs is as fresh as ever.
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]