By Catalina Righter
The downtown Chestertown dining scene is seeing major changes as the mill-turned-restaurant Brooks Tavern closed its doors this Saturday, September 20 to be replaced later this fall by the Asian restaurant Café Sado.
Brooks Tavern was owned and opperated by restaurant business regulars Barbara Silcox and Kevin McKinney. “Originally called Radcliffe Mill, the building was bought by the Brooks family in 1917, on the birth of a son named Phillip… We wanted to connect the histories by bringing the ‘Brooks’ back to the Mill,” according to the Brooks Tavern website.
According to Silcox it was the landlord of the property, Randy Cooper, who had the idea to turn the old mill into a place for dining. He reached out to Silcox and McKinney because of their restaurant experience.
The two originally brought their version of dining to Chestertown in 1986 with the Ironstone Café. They later opened the Kennedyville Inn in 1995. Both have since been sold to other owners and closed. Silcox said that the closing of Brooks Tavern was very different because no aspect of the menu or restaurant will remain in the transition. Instead, the restaurant will be totally replaced by Café Sado.
Details and an insider’s view of Brooks Tavern have been documented in the Brooks Tavern blog written by Silcox. In a post written about the closing, Silcox said, “This last minute outpouring of support has been simply wonderful, really. It has been good for the staff and good for us, sad as the reason for it might be. We are challenged to remain committed to our product and prove to the staff that we will be professionals to the bittersweet end, and so will they… We intend to be the best we can be, all the way through. And we appreciate more than words can say how our customers are also remaining committed to us.”
For its last week of operation, the tavern maintained a full staff. “Some members of the staff will be staying. Some will be going in other directions. But everyone seems to have a plan,” said Silcox. The loyal customers of Brooks Tavern also remained steady to the end. “It was really gratifying to see such an outpouring of love and admiration for the last 28 years,” she said.
According to her, the transition was “stressful.” The last minute nature of the move was due to the fact that a tenant was found for the space. However Silcox and McKinney informed their landlord two years ago that they would not be renewing the lease.
The two will not be retiring from the food business entirely however. Their next planned endeavor is the K-B Market and Kitchen School, which according to the description on their Facebook page offers, “casual but serious cooking classes under Chef Kevin McKinney.”
They are already actively working on the property, which will offer cooking lessons in a home-style kitchen as opposed to a professional one which may be intimidating. Silcox said, “We have our construction permit, and we are working with the Kent County Planning Office, who have been very helpful I might add, on the business plan.”
The new inhabitant of the space Café Sado serves “Sushi and Authentic Thai cuisine,” according to their website and is expected to enter the space in November. It is owned by Tony Wong who already operates a location in Kent Island, MD.
Chestertown residents have expressed some trepidation at the thought of a sushi place in in the small town. “The Chestertown Spy” ran a short announcement titled “Lordy: We Hear Sushi is Coming to Ctown.” However, Silcox wrote on the Brooks Tavern blog, “We hope to succeed at our new endeavor and we certainly hope Mr. Wong does too,” in regards to the concern.
Many WC students have the opposite attitude about the prospects of a news sushi place. “I will single-handedly keep [Café Sado] in business,” said sophomore Lillian Starr with excitement. “Brooks Tavern had really good food, but I think [Cafe Sado is] a better fit for our community.”
The Chester location was already popular with students despite the drive-time required to eat there. Sophomore Elisabeth Engle said, “Having a Sado here would save gas money for students and also give us another place to go in Chestertown among the town’s other amazing restaurants… Sushi is my favorite food and I am very excited to be able to go to Sado more often with my friends and sisters.”