When it comes to family-owned and-operated businesses in the Atlantic City region, few are as iconic as The Historic Smithville Inn. Founded as a stagecoach stop for weary travelers on the journey from New York to Cape May, the Smithville Inn has a long and storied history of hospitality. Now the Inn is one of South Jersey’s busiest restaurants, serving everything from Sunday brunch and lunches to dinners and tavern fare, and hosting many special events.
It wasn’t always hustle and bustle at the Smithville Inn. It was 1997 when the current owners took possession, and at that time, it had been closed for almost four years — the entire village was hurting. Out of 60 shops that once lined the brick pathways of Smithville, all but a few had closed by 1996. But better times were ahead.
The Coppola family and their partners, the Bushars, have been the owners and operators for the past 20 years, and in 1996, when they saw the state of the building and learned its history, they knew they had to get involved.
“It was breaking my heart to see such a beautiful building left to deteriorate. We knew it was going to be a risk, but we felt like if we didn’t act it would be lost forever,” says Fran Coppola about her and her husband Tonys Sr.’s concern.
They knew exactly who to call for help. This is where Charles and Laura Bushar enter the picture. The Bushars have been friends with the Coppolas for over 40 years, and Charles had experience turning around commercial real estate and making it viable again.
“We had extensive negotiations with the holding bank and finally made a deal that allowed us to purchase the entire East Village,” Charles Bushar says.
When the Coppolas and Bushars combined their efforts, Smithville once again had owners that would make it a destination.
“Both families are fully committed to not only Smithville Village but the entire community”, says Stephanie Bushar, daughter of Charles and Laurawho handles the real estate and leases for the village. Indeed, having Smithville viable once again has stabilized the community surrounding it, and the area continues to be one of Galloway’s most sought-after housing markets.
Today the Smithville Inn is a favorite of locals and travelers alike. Tony Coppola Jr., the general manager of the Inn, credits this to its eclectic food and beverage offerings and its tradition of hospitality.
“We are always trying to stay ahead of the latest food trends while still staying true to the classic offerings that made the Inn famous,” Coppola says.
This is evident when you browse the menu at the Smithville Inn. Old favorites like the chicken pot pie seem to peacefully coexist with new dishes like wasabi-encrusted tuna.
“This is the Food Network generation. People are more educated diners today, and you have to adapt your business and excite them with new and different menu choices,” Coppola continues.
Chef Chris Bellino believes in the theory that you buy the best ingredients possible to get the best dishes. Smithville Inn has a special Jersey Fresh menu all summer featuring locally sourced fruit, produce and meats.
It’s not just the food that attracts people to the Inn; it also has one of the area’s most beautiful bars, the Baremore Tavern. Specializing in local craft beers, small-batch bourbons and boutique liquors, the tavern staff is always warm and inviting — so much that some regulars have never dined in the dining room, instead preferring the casual fireside charm of the Baremore Tavern. The Tavern and Inn also share an incredible wine selection, and have won the prestigious Wine Spectator award for multiple years.
However, the real charm of the Inn is the people. The Coppola and Bushar families have created a culture that is furthered by their staff. You can’t help but feel that the people who work at the Inn actually enjoy their jobs. There is a real esprit de corps among the employees, many of whom have been there for years.
“We want to treat people the way we would want to be treated when we go out,” Laura Bushar says. “Being a family owned and operated business has allowed us to have special relationships with our employees ... Not everyone can do what they do, they are a special group, and we treat them well.”
Smithville Inn, 1 N. New York Road (Route 9), Galloway; HistoricSmithvilleNJ.com