The Colgate Inn underwent its first management change in 15 years this summer. The reaction from the town has been mixed, with many villagers expressing concerns about the Inn choosing an out of state management company over Hospitality Concepts, the central New York company that has managed the Inn for the last decade and a half.
In its place is Charlestown Hotels, based in South Carolina. The company already owns eight “college hotels,” including another school-owned hotel, the Sewanee Inn, at the University of the South in Tennesse.
Head Chef Jay Minckler explained that Hamilton locals have also expressed frustration over his appointment as head chef and his new changes to the menu. Staples such as the pot roast and Tollhouse cookie pie are no longer available, and the menu has been sized down from previous years. Despite the tensions with the town, Minckler said he is confident in his vision of bringing the Inn into the 21st century.
The change of management at the Inn came as a shock to some in town, as Hospitality Concepts still has multiple years left on their contract. However, the company was alerted last fall that their con- tract would be terminated and they would have to compete with other
management services to regain the contract. Hospitality Concepts notably also owned the No. 10 Tavern, which closed in the spring of last year and was sold back to Colgate University through Hamilton Initiative LLC, which also owns the Inn. Charlestown Hotels took over management on July 1 and named Minckler, who had worked at the Inn for six months and has over twenty years of experience in the industry, head chef in August.
For Minckler, this job is the culmination of years of hard work, and a chance to reinvent a menu that was outdated. When the fall menu debuted at the beginning of the school year, it had a decidedly different feel. It was more modern, with the staple roast making way for maple glazed salmon, fried chicken and shrimp penne. For Minckler, it was a revamp and move towards the modern cuisine that the Inn had lacked for years.
“We’re not trying to take away the thing they love, we’re trying to make it better,” Minckler said.
The Tollhouse cookie pie, which Minckler says was nearly 80% Crisco, has been updated to a “Colgate Pie,” a Macadamia nut cookie with Gilligans Island Raider Passion ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Spinach and artichoke dip is another revamped item. After being off the menu for the entirety of September while the recipe was adjusted, the dish made a return to the menu in October, as did chicken parmesan.
Minckler said that these changes haven’t been welcomed by all of the Inn’s patrons.
“I’m getting a lot of feedback [saying] the menu isn’t as big as it used to be,” Minckler said. “But the more stuff that’s on the menu means the more stuff that is in the back, and your quality is go- ing to go downhill because you’re not selling fast enough.”
As such, quality and locality have become focal points of Minckler’s philosophy. He has added a butcher’s cut and catch of the day to the menu. The butcher’s cut is sourced from Drovers Hill Farm in Earlville and changes every day based upon what the farmers believe is the best fresh cut. While seafood may be harder to find in Hamilton, Minckler said his pride and joy is a strong distribution system that allows him to receive a fish taken out of the Pacific on Monday morning and have it ready to serve for dinner on Tuesday. These connections to both farmers and fisherman, as well as multiple other local businesses, such as Hamilton’s Good Nature Brewing and Earlville’s Jewett’s Cheese House, have given the menu a local feel Minkler says was lacking prior.
“It isn’t what Charlestown Hotel or I want to do, it’s what we want to do for the town and student body. This isn’t my Inn, this is their Inn,” Minckler said.
Instead of the chore that those final bites of dry Tollhouse cookie pie always felt like, the new combination of flavors keeps the eater interested. It also allows for future renditions with different types of cookies and ice cream combinations. While Tollhouse cookie pie may be a Hamilton staple, its re- invention gives it a much needed new life, and I would be excited to see other Hamilton restaurants make their own adjustments to the recipe.
For many, seeing Tollhouse cookie pie or pot roast off the menu is a change that is startling and the immediate reaction is to question the decision. The changes to the menu have been drastic, and not everyone will like them, but last year after I ate at the Inn, I recall feeling that the food was tired and the menu too big for its own good. This year, I had a remarkably different experience. No matter how you feel about the new menu, credit should be given to Minckler and his team for drastically changing a menu and cultivating relationships with local suppliers as quickly and as neatly as he has done.
An additional winter menu will debut on November 28 and will likely bring back some old favorites that have been dearly missed.
Contact Gideon Hamot at [email protected]