At The Stockyard Inn, chairs, glassware, and dishes familiar to generations of diners have been grouped together and numbered, arranged for an ongoing online auction that will disperse the contents of the landmark Lancaster city restaurant.
Practically everything is for sale as the Fournaris family winds down their nearly 70-year restaurant operation along Lititz Pike. It was one of the oldest, continuously operating restaurants in Lancaster County. The online auction of the restaurant’s contents, which ends Tuesday, follows the final closure of the restaurant’s dining room in early September and the May sale of the property to a developer planning a $48 million, 216-unit apartment complex on the site.
Once the sale is finalized, 57-year-old Jim Fournaris said he will consider options for a new venture that could include a version of the Stockyard Inn somewhere else, but wouldn’t include his parents and co-owners, Tom and Athena, who are retiring from the business.
“This is all that we’ve ever done. Does that mean that’s all I should do?” said Jim Fournaris, who recalls washing glasses at the restaurant when he was in elementary school. “Maybe part of me says, ‘Why not try something new?’”
The Fournaris family still owns the Stockyard Inn’s restaurant liquor license as well as the name, assets that along with proceeds of the real estate sale and auction could be used for a new venture that might include just a small restaurant component.
“Whatever Jim would get involved with, we would help out,” said Athena Fournaris, who is 79 years old and continued to work at The Stockyard Inn until it closed.
But Jim Fournaris said serious consideration of a next step will only begin once the dust settles from the auction, adding that any new restaurant would be launched with new furnishings and equipment.
“If we decided to do something in the same realm, we would start with new equipment,” he said.
Getting ready to sell
To prepare for the auction, the Fournaris family spent weeks unpacking and arranging dishes, utensils and equipment they’ve used at the restaurant that Thomas’ father first opened in 1952, much of which had been stored in the basement.
The auction, which includes stoves and other kitchen equipment, is also veritable time capsule of dinner service, illustrating, for example, how plates and glassware have become larger and more uniform over the years.
“We have like four generations of plates, we really do. Amazing, isn’t it,” said Athena Fournaris.
The oldest plates are more colorful and smaller, meant to only hold only a meal’s main protein. Vegetables and other side items were served separately in smaller, all-purpose “monkey bowls.” Earlier versions of plates were often paired with metal covers which were useful for stacking and carrying many plates together, and for dramatically revealing an entrée to customers.
“As time went on, you didn’t use that size plate anymore, you went to a larger plate,” said Athena Fournaris, noting that most dinner plates are now large, square and white, capable of holding a steak and all the side dishes.
The auction’s 755 lots also include red-topped bar stools and upholstered chairs as well as many kinds of tables, several large mirrors and myriad pots and pans. One-hundred-ninety-eight salt-and-pepper shakers will be sold in 11 separate lots. One of the tables in the bar room has been reserved for a longtime customer who just had to have it.
Online bidding for the auction, which is being handled by Hess Auction Group, ends at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Information is available at hessauctiongroup.com.
Historic site became landmark restaurant
The original, four-room stone farmhouse at the Stockyard Inn site is believed to have been built in 1750, with major additions in 1850 and 1922.The property's most famous owner, James Buchanan, bought it in 1856, just before he became president. He sold it to the Pennsylvania Railroad eight years later.
In 1895, the Lancaster Stockyards was founded on adjacent farmland and the farmhouse was converted to an inn that served the visiting cattlemen at what would become the largest stockyards east of Chicago.
James Fournaris purchased the Stockyard Inn in 1952 and the restaurant evolved into an upscale steakhouse that lasted as a Lancaster dining institution long after the adjacent stockyards had gone quiet. As late as 1994, the stockyards auctioned 70,000 head of cattle, but the trade died after the largest dealer, Dunlap & Sons, closed in 1999.
Situated near the Amtrak station at a gateway to the city, the Stockyard Inn has been eyed by a variety of developers, the Fournaris family said.
“But not a single one wanted to keep it as a restaurant,” said Jim Fournaris, noting that a restaurant on two floors with seating for 270 was unwieldy. “It’s too big. It’s a monster.”
With his parents well beyond normal retirement age, Jim Fournaris said a redevelopment plan from Ben Lesher appealed to them, both because of Lesher’s overall approach to them and the project as well as his commitment to salvage the oldest part of the restaurant. A sale of the 4.6-acre property was finalized in May for $3.65 million, with the Fournaris family leasing the restaurant back since then.
Lesher’s redevelopment plan, which is currently being considered by the city Zoning Hearing Board, includes a proposal to pare the historic restaurant building down to its oldest portions, then relocate it from the center of the property to the Marshall Avenue side where it would become a clubhouse for apartment tenants.
“I’m so glad he appreciated the history of the building,” said Athena Fournaris. “We were happy about that. It would have been very sad to drive on Lititz Pike and not see The Stockyard anymore.”