The Tavern in Old Salem, 736. S. Main, St., will close at the end of the year.
Owners Rick and Lori Keiper announced the closing Nov. 29 to their employees.
“All the road closures, not just Business 40 but also in Old Salem, have really hurt us,” Lori Keiper said.
The yearlong closure of Business 40 has had a negative effect on many downtown restaurants and other small businesses. In June, Hutch & Harris, another well-established downtown restaurant, cited the road closure as one of several reasons for closing permanently after more than 10 years in business.
Keiper said that in addition to problems caused by the work on Business 40, the city’s installation of new water lines in Old Salem this year has made it difficult for customers to get to the restaurant. “We were doubly hit,” she said. “We’ve had a cage around our restaurant for a long time. We didn’t have any handicapped parking spaces. A lot of people just couldn’t get close enough to the restaurant.”
The Keipers bought what had previously been called Old Salem Tavern from longtime owner Gail Winston in 2012. They immediately breathed new life into the restaurant, not only through extensive renovations, but also a revamped menu that featured fresh, local fare that gave the restaurant a contemporary touch while still honoring Old Salem’s Moravian history.
The Keipers also brought in two of their sons to help them manage the business. Jared Keiper ran the kitchen, establishing a farm-to-table reputation, while brother Jordan Keiper ran the front of the house, establishing a bar program that showcased many local brewers and distillers.
In the last year or so, both brothers left the business to pursue other ventures. Jared Keiper now works with Joyce Farms and Jordan Keiper works with Providence Kitchen.
Lori Keiper said that it was with a sad heart that they are closing the restaurant, because she has a longtime attachment to Old Salem that dates back more than 30 years. “I just love Old Salem. My first job at Old Salem was holding open the door and greeting people at Single Brothers House. Then I started cooking and baking in the houses,” she said.
She also made desserts for the Tavern after the family opened it.
She said she was working across the street at the Zevely Inn when Winston decided to sell the business. “I remember coming home and Rick was watching a football game. When I told him I wanted to open a restaurant, he was like, ‘No, no, no.” He thought I was crazy.”
Rick Keiper, who had many years of food-service experience with such companies as Sysco and Southern Foods, eventually came around.
Lori Keiper said they are proud of the business they built in the last seven years, and especially of their loyal employees. “We’ve all been a family ever since we opened. Our employees have been terrific,” she said.
The Keipers even have one employee from the previous restaurant. “Lucy Tabron has been a hostess here for 30 years. We just had a big surprise anniversary party for her last month.”
Keiper said that there is no buyer for the business, and that the contents will be auctioned off next year. She said that Old Salem Museums & Gardens, the restaurant’s landlord, was informed of their plans to close in August. Frank Vagnone, the president of Old Salem, said that Old Salem would like to have another restaurant in the spot. That would be in addition to Muddy Creek Cafe & Music Hall, which had its grand opening down the street from the Tavern on Nov. 30.
Old Salem had not begun formally looking for a new tenant for the Tavern building, Vagnone said, but, even so, had been contacted by potential tenants. He added that Old Salem wants to take this opportunity to make some renovations to the building, including improvements in accessibility for people with disabilities. "We are very sad to see the Keipers go," Vagnone said, "but it still looks like a very promising future here."
Keiper said that New Year’s Eve will be the Tavern’s last day of business. All gift certificates will be honored through December.
“This has been hard for us,” Keiper said. “This was supposed to be a legacy for our boys. Both of them met their wives in the restaurant.”