White Horse Inn bought by local restaurateurs
Husband-and-wife restaurateurs Victor Dzenowagis and Linda Egeland have signed a purchase agreement for the building, which closed without notice back in November. According to employees, the owners were in discussion with contractors about repairs to the 163-year-old building. It was decided, according to the closure notice, that those repairs would not be made. The East High Street property was also in mortgage foreclosure and the taxes hadn’t been paid. The closure ended the eatery’s purported run as Michigan’s oldest continuallyserving restaurant.
The only things eating at the White Horse these days are the rodents, and there is no denying that an enormous amount of work needs to be poured into the place to make it a viable establishment again. The kitchen floor is rotting away to the extent that an ice cooler has partially fallen through. Down in the basement, a six-by-six chunk of wood balanced on its end on top of a boulder is what is holding that section of the floor up. Upstairs, the floors slope so badly, it makes one’s knees buckle to walk into the room. The foundation is crumbling away so badly that it has been stuffed with spray foam and steel wool to keep rats from entering. The ceiling upstairs is rotted through in places, and the food in the outdoor cooler in the back of the building was never cleaned out when the place closed.
Indoors, particularly in the bar area, it looks as if they simply closed the doors after a night of business and left it to the ghosts. Glasses wait stacked on the bar, illuminated by the sunlight streaking in through the wavy old windows. Speaking of ghosts, that of Lorenzo Hoard might be a bit unhappy to learn that someone took his riding boots, which always rested at the top of the stairs. Or, perhaps old Lorenzo put on his boots and simply headed elsewhere once the establishment closed.
“We’re in the process of figuring out what needs to be done to the building. We’ve had builders and architects in the building for almost three weeks now,” Egeland said. “It’s been really badly neglected and it’s going to take an awful lot of work and even more money to turn it into a vibrant, successful restaurant that can stand the test of time for the next 100 years.”
But if all goes as they hope, Dzenowagis and Egeland will be able to take possession of the White Horse name — it’s tied up in liens right now — get historical grants and other assistance, and bring the restaurant back. Their vision is a clean, pleasant place to meet, eat and drink that embraces the historical and equestrian charm it always has. With 25 years in the restaurant business and five successful eateries in the metro Detroit area, they have plenty of experience.
“We’re confident that we’re going to be able to pull it together and keep it the White Horse and give it a facelift and keep it the same place everyone has loved over the years,” Egeland said.
Dzenowagis and Egeland have lived about three miles from the White Horse for 22 years, and ate there frequently. They love the community and are looking forward to bringing the restaurant back. Both also feel a sense of urgency about the project.
“They were sitting in these rooms talking about the Civil War,” Egeland added.
The couple is estimating it is going to take a year and at least a million dollars to make the building structurally sound, up to code, handicapaccessible and to replace and refurbish everything. Dzenowagis likened it to peeling back the layers of an onion, because they’re not entirely sure what they will find as they begin the process.
One interesting part of the process will be that Bill Kubota of KDN Videoworks will be creating a documentary of the restoration, which is to be aired on PBS.
As the couple has been at the White Horse a lot, they are finding the community is as excited as they are about the restaurant reopening. One such person is John Griswold, who is a trustee on the village council and owner of the Village Saltbox across from the White Horse.
“Even a year is going to hurt all the businesses here,” he said. “It always hurts when a business in a community leaves.”
The White Horse, he said, has been going downhill for probably about 40 years, though he said he still enjoyed going there for a bite to eat.
Restaurant portfolio grows
METAMORA — Metamora residents Victor Dzenowagis and Linda Egeland have 25 years of experience and they operate a group of five original restaurants in the metro Detroit area.
• Camp Ticonderoga (est. 1996) in Troy
• The Moose Preserve Bar & Grill (est. 1990) in Bloomfield Hills
• Deadwood Bar & Grill (est. 1999) in Northville
• Beaver Creek Tackle & Beer (est. 1986) in Westland
• The Iroquois Club (est. 2006) in Bloomfield Hills
The common thread linking all their restaurants is a casual, comfortable atmosphere, lodgelike interiors, varied menu offerings, outdoor terraces and they’re known for having the best homemade, cooked-to-order chocolate chip cookies.