Havilah Inn: Fairy tale has sad ending for some

April 07, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Sun Staff Writer

And now we come to Havilah Inn -- Joe has found his place!

He's proud as is his right to be -- He's earned his happy face!

Come sit by the fire in the Trophy Room. Come have a little cheer.

Hospitality and good friends are on the menu here. Bonnie Fitzgerald remembered the poem -- written by a friend of her mother-in-law's -- that hung on the wall to greet guests of the Havilah Inn during the 15 years she and her husband, Joe, owned the restaurant.

While she has only happy memories of the place, Mrs. Fitzgerald feels that recent events involving the Havilah Inn -- its closing and sale by a bank -- have written a sad chapter to what the Fitzgeralds heralded as their fairy tale come true.

"There are all these really negative things being said about the Havilah," said Mrs. Fitzgerald, 56, during an interview at her home outside Taneytown. "But that's not the way it should be remembered. It was a very special place."

The Havilah Inn, a longtime landmark in northwest Carroll County, was bought March 24 by Taneytown Bank and Trust Co. for $340,000 at an auction the bank held after it foreclosed on R. Leon Rebert, who bought the restaurant from the Fitzgeralds in 1991.

The bank foreclosed on Mr. Rebert in February, after he failed to make mortgage payments for four months. He owed the bank nearly $331,000 plus interest.

Mr. Rebert also was unable to pay his employees, local companies with whom he had food and supply contracts, and utility bills, said former waitress Doris Harner, who was interviewed with Mrs. Fitzgerald.

Troubles last year

The Fitzgeralds, who held a second mortgage on the restaurant, realized there was a problem there last fall.

"I realized something was wrong when it became difficult to get our money," Mrs. Fitzgerald said. "From this experience, I wouldn't ever advise anyone to take a second mortgage because, basically, we lost" money.

She said that she depended on her income from the second mortgage. She now is working for one of her sons in his catering business.

The Fitzgeralds sold the restaurant because Mr. Fitzgerald, a diabetic, was in ill health. They offered to buy it back when Mr. Rebert was looking for a buyer shortly after the bank began foreclosure proceedings.

"I did try to work something out with Mr. Rebert, in order to salvage some of our losses," Mrs. Fitzgerald said. "But we were never able to work anything out."

Mr. Rebert did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.

With such a shadow hanging over what the Fitzgeralds feel is a legacy of good times, Mrs. Fitzgerald and Mrs. Harner said people should understand that the Havilah Inn is much more than the synonym for financial disaster that its recent troubles have made it.

'That was Joe's dream'

"This wasn't some place we just went and bought," said Mrs. Fitzgerald. "That was Joe's dream, to build a place of his own. He designed it, and we built it."

The rustic, ranch-style building, which sits atop a hill along Taneytown Pike, opened for business in 1975. Mr. Fitzgerald named it "Havilah," the Gaelic word for "rolling hills and hollows."

Mrs. Harner, whom the Fitzgeralds had met when they owned The Raft, a restaurant that was on the site now occupied by Wantz Chevrolet, said she waited on the first and last of Havilah Inn's thousands of customers.

She said the family atmosphere of the place drew people in and lured them back.

"We had a real good crew, just ask Doris," Mrs. Fitzgerald said. "The girls didn't work for us. They worked with us. It was really like a family."

The employees were happy and busy, talking to the Fitzgeralds more as friends than employers and doing whatever needed doing. They never minded extra work, Mrs. Harner said.

She has kept a scrapbook on the Havilah since the day construction began. "I never missed a year," she said.

Atmosphere changed

Mrs. Harner, who stayed at the Havilah Inn when Mr. Rebert bought it, said the atmosphere changed abruptly.

"It had a cold feeling about it," Mrs. Harner said. "There was a definite fear about what you could and could not do."

Mr. Fitzgerald was always on hand.

"Joe did everything. It didn't matter what it was, peel potatoes, bus tables, whatever needed to be done," Mrs. Harner said.

"And there were the girls who came in every Tuesday afternoon to play bridge," Mrs. Fitzgerald said. "Joe really enjoyed having the girls there, and I think he made their day, too."

The Fitzgerald's five children worked in the business, but only two remain in the food industry. David, 37, owns Fitzgerald's Classic Catering in Taneytown. Daughter Shawn Mort, 35, was the Havilah Inn's head cook.

"She stayed until it closed," Mrs. Fitzgerald said. "I think she thought, like many other people who worked there, that she'd be coming back to her job."

Sons Barry, 33, and Darren, 31, are truck drivers. Shane, 28, owns the Bow Hunters Den in Taneytown.

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