Could fourth time be charm for Bountiful's Smedley Manor?
Bountiful • The Victorian-era Smedley Manor was designed as a home, one that would accommodate meals for a family and their guests. But Martha Celia hopes to find a lasting home for her bistro there, after three previous restaurants came and went.
James Smedley built the red brick house at 305 N. Main St. in Bountiful in 1893 for his family. It passed from one generation to the next until Smedley's granddaughter leased it in 2004 to a man who converted the home into Cafe 305.
That was succeeded by Sego Lily's Cafe, then the family ran the manor as a short-lived barbecue restaurant that changed names a month after it opened. Now it's in Celia's hands as Bistro on Main.
"It's got a lot of charm," said Celia as she sat at a wood table in the parlor during a mid-afternoon lull. The building's wood floors, two fireplaces, expansive lawn and the cozy charm everything that makes the Smedley Manor feel like home is what has drawn entrepreneurs and customers to the quiet reprieve from Bountiful's chain restaurants. The manor is one of the few eateries in the city that isn't a franchise. Celia's customers linger by the fireplace well after finishing their meals to relax and chat.
"It has such a classic kind of perfect, nostalgic look to it. It looks like you're going over to dinner at grandma's," said Fred Moesinger, who ran Sego Lily's Cafe at the manor from 2007 to 2011.
Both Moesinger or Celia had issue with some of the upgrades to the house. Until Celia pulled the pipes away from the walls, they froze in winter. Even the toilets would freeze. The air conditioning used to act strangely the rooms would be "warm as heck," but the bathrooms would be cold, said Celia's daughter Christine Connors, who works at the restaurant. And the restaurant's small kitchen an add-on limits the menu and feels like a furnace.
"It gets to 110 to 120 degrees," Celia said. A brick wall traps the heat and the ventilation doesn't work properly.
She took over the house late last June from Smedley's descendants, who still own it, but she's put off a grand opening until she's worked out the kinks, hopefully sometime this summer.
Richard Smith, who married James Smedley's granddaughter Alice, admires the old house, with its sloping roof and added porch that blends in well with the original architecture. He's impressed, too, with how little the interior's changed through the decades, even after housing several businesses. There are limitations with any renovation, and there were several positive and creative choices, he said.
Customers also praise the home in online reviews, calling it warm and cozy.
Some of their customers have lived in Bountiful all their lives and remember picking pears off the house's trees, going to church with James Smedley's children and helping the family put up their Christmas tree. Now, they come by the old house for a bite. Even Alice Smith, James Smedley's granddaughter, comes by once or twice a month for a meal.
Attracting new customers can be a challenge. Celia can't afford much advertising, and the owners get the sense the manor's exterior gives people the impression that dinner is a more expensive outing than it is. Yelp lists the bistro as moderately priced. The most expensive entree, a steak, will set you back about $20. An average dinner entree is about $15, and appetizers are about $10.
But the owners believe the manor's recent history, changing hands four times in seven years, also works against them.
"Because of the past restaurants, they don't have much faith anymore that someone is going to stay," Connors said.
After Sego Lily Cafe closed, Smedley's descendants put the house up for sale for just shy of $1 million. It's off the market now that it's been leased to Celia, and if the family ever tries to sell the house again, she could choose to buy the house when an offer comes up. She isn't sure yet if she would say yes. She wants to see how her bistro fares for a year or two before making such an investment.
Where • 305 N. Main St., Bountiful; 801-294-3327
Hours • Monday-Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (brunch, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Reservations • Yes
Liquor • Full service