It’s an industry that has an endless supply of customers seeking a product that will never be obsolete. Despite those favorable circumstances, it’s also an industry with a constantly changing roster of businesses. It’s the restaurant business, where a single bad review, or a chef who takes ill or quits in anger can cause even a long established destination to go under.
Thus the dining scene in Sergeantsville, a small crossroads in Delaware Township in Hunterdon County, a few miles south of Flemington, looked very bleak on the morning of March 9, 2015. A late night fire swept through the Sergeantsville Inn, parts of which date back to 1734, leaving little more than the stone walls still standing. But the devastation of the building and the business notwithstanding, the chef owner and his wife, Joe and Lisa Clyde, soon announced they would rebuild and reopen.
They did both. Just in time for New Years, 2016, the Sergeantsville Inn (pronounced sir-geantsville) was back in business.
This tale of phoenix rising is not only a testament to the resilience of Clyde, who bought the inn in 1999 after running the successful Clyde’s (now Clydz) restaurant in New Brunswick for many years. It is also a story of how small towns still value locally owned businesses, and how a restaurant can be a community gathering place as well as a dining destination.
Within days of the fire, after Clyde announced his intention to rebuild, a A Go Fund Me site, Save the Sergeantsville Inn LLC, was established to raise money to for repairs not covered by insurance and to help the displaced staff from the restaurant.
As the organizers said at gofundme.com: “The Sergeantsville Inn is so much more than an historic building at the crossroads of our little community. The inn is an icon; it is an institution; it is our family. The inn is the center of our world; everything that happens in Delaware Township happens at the inn. It will take an entire community to help save the inn. This is more than just raising money. This is a barnraising and we are the foundation. This is our chance to be a part of the rebuilding. Thank you in advance for your generosity.”
The statement added that “proceeds will be made available as needed to the families impacted and to supplement the rebuilding of the inn.”
The community, probably not immediately familiar with online fundraising, got some reassurances from a Facebook page called savetheinn, which was created three days after the fire.
“Hi folks,” began one post. “I am hoping this will address some concerns. The Go Fund page was not just something that was thrown together. An LLC had been created with a proper bank account so that money is protected and used for the purpose to save the inn. When the statement save the inn is made, that is not just focused on a building. This money is being raised to help the inn family as a whole. That includes owners and staff members. There has been people in communication with Joe and Lisa. The owners and staff are appreciative of our efforts and support.
“There is insurance in place. Insurance takes time. Insurance may not cover everything. All fundraising efforts will be gifted as a supplement. This money is a security blanket for hurdles when they arise. Many of you have stated this is three days old. You are right, this is three days old. There is no way of predicting the future. There is no way of knowing what tomorrow will bring, what financial hardships will come to be, there is just no way of knowing what the needs will be in the coming days and months of rebuild and restore. The sole purpose of any fundraising efforts is to give the community a chance to offer what little assistance we can at this point. Monetary gifts are what we can provide right now. If you have any other concerns, please reach out to me. Thanks for EVERYTHING!”
Eventually the site raised nearly $20,000 from 121 donations to help bolster the rebuilding effort.
The uncompromised integrity of the stone walls, which convinced Joe Clyde that the restaurant was worth rebuilding, are now a central part of the inn’s interior. Under the supervision of project manager Mik Barna of Barna Building Contractors, the renovation was a project for a work force of almost entirely local building tradespeople.
Even the township building officials, the bane of many a construction project, received high praise from the Clydes. “I won’t say that they let us slide,” says Lisa Clyde. “But they made sure we had what we needed when we needed it.”
Joe Clyde, originally from Newark, has always had a passion for food. A New York Times review in 2003 noted that he had apprenticed at the Manor in West Orange in the 1970s, and then worked as chef at Rafferty’s in New Brunswick, before opening Clyde’s.
The Times review cited Clyde’s “tradition of game meats” that began at the New Brunswick restaurants. Now that he is back in business at the Sergeantsville Inn the menu may include such items as llama, kangaroo, wild boar, buffalo, and venison. For now the tradition rests in the hands of the Clydes. Will it survive them? Their daughter is only 12, so it’s probably too soon to predict.
The Sergeantsville Inn, 601 Rosemont-Ringoes Road, Box 183, Sergeantsville 08557; 609-397-3700. Joe Clyde, proprietor. Open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday. Dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday. www.sergeantsvilleinn.com.