By Patricia Beech
Moyer Winery & Restaurant in Manchester has new owners, a new look, a new menu, and a new attitude when it comes to riverside dining.
New owners Ken and Kimberly Smith say they wanted to bring a more casual atmosphere to the business started 45 years ago by Ken Moyer, a Texas engineer and wine-making hobbyist.
Moyer and his wife Mary opened the winery and restaurant in 1973 serving only two dishes – beef bourguignon and bean and bacon soup.
The restaurant quickly became known as a fine-dining establishment with a jacket-required dress code.
That reputation, Smith says, has not been easy to dispel.
“The group who purchased the business from the Moyers, fought hard to get rid of that image,” he says. “Judge Brett Spencer, one of the previous owners, would always say, ‘if you’re comfortable with how you’re dressed, then we’re very comfortable with how you’re dressed’ – they didn’t want that stuffy dress-code, but they didn’t have much success changing it.”
The Smiths decided to take a different approach – they would renovate both the restaurant and it’s stuffy image.
By removing a portion of one interior wall, they created a more casual dining space that opened up a sweeping panoramic view of the Ohio River to both the restaurant’s inside and outside dining areas.
“Remodeling gave the place a fresh look,” says Ken. “Its come-as-you-are-atmosphere is more inviting now, especially for folks coming in off the river for dinner.”
Of course, serving customers off the river requires a place for boats to anchor, and the Smiths say they see a new boat dock in the restaurant’s future.
“We do plan on adding that feature, hopefully next year,” says Ken. “If all goes well, that’s definitely something we want to see happen.”
Smith is clearly in his restaurateur element these days playing host to his customers and practicing his “go casual” approach to dressing for dinner at Moyer.
Sporting a button-up shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals he moves from table-to-table chatting with diners, making sure the meal and the service meet their expectations.
Since its grand re-opening more than a week ago, Smith says the restaurant has kept the entire staff hopping.
“The opening went very well,” he says. “We had very good crowds Wednesday and Thursday, we had an awesome crowd on Friday, and a bustin’ at the seams crowd on Saturday – quite frankly, it was straight up crazy down there Saturday.”
The restaurant’s new menu turned out to be a crowd pleaser, both for its new offerings and its selection of original signature dishes created by the Moyers such as: Mary’s Bean & Bacon Soup, the Mile High Lemon Pie, Pan Fried Chicken Livers, and Ken’s Fruit and Cheese appetizer platter.
A new menu item that’s generating a lot of interest is fried green tomatoes. Smith says the freshly-breaded-not-quite-ripe-pan-fried vegetable has turned out to be more popular than they’d anticipated.
“They’re fabulous, we can’t keep them,” he says. “I cleaned out everybody at the Farmer’s Market in the Defender parking lot Saturday morning, and one vendor, Kate Jones, actually went back to her house and got me a whole bag of them because even between all those vendors, there still weren’t enough green tomatoes to go around.”
To meet customer demand, the Smiths have employed more than 40 people at the restaurant, and they’re still looking to hire even more.
“Believe it or not, we need to hire more, especially kitchen staff,” says Ken. “We’ve got a really good core group, and I’m scared to death we’re going to burn them out if we don’t bring in more help.”
Waitress Jennifer Little says the restaurant has something for everyone.
“Even the pickiest eater will find something on our menu they like to eat,” says Little. “We have a lot of choices and everything on the menu is delicious.”
Cindy Stike, the restaurant’s general manager, says that customer reaction to the building renovations and the new menu have exceeded expectations.
“We took out a wall so there’s a beautiful view of the river that can be seen from the dining areas,” she says. “It makes quite an impression when you walk into the restaurant, the customers all love it.”
Also new – refinished dining chairs, freshly painted walls, restored original hardwood floors, new restrooms, an updated kitchen, and a full length tasting bar in the front of the restaurant that allows customers to sample one of the many Moyer wine brands before ordering their meal.
“We’re all very excited,” says Stike. “I think people are really going to like the changes they find here in the restaurant. There’s a beautiful view, the atmosphere is relaxed, the food is delicious, the prices are very, very reasonable, and we’re still carrying on the tradition of making and selling wine.”
The Smiths says they’re grateful for the opportunity to step in as the new owners.
“There were other interested buyers, but the owners chose us because they wanted Kim and I to be the ones to continue the Moyer tradition,” says Smith of the local group of individuals who purchased the restaurant in 1999 when Ken and Mary Moyer retired. “If they hadn’t bought the business, Moyer’s would have died then.”
That group included Ben and Carol White of West Union, Jim and Wanda Bowman of Manchester, Tom Hamrick of West Union, Brett and Sherri Spencer of Bentonville, and Cindy and Bob Gilkison of Maysville.
“We bought the winery because we wanted to keep this iconic restaurant in our community,” Brett Spencer said. “We were not necessarily interested in making money, and we accomplished both those goals.”
The former owners all agreed that the Smiths were the perfect match for the restaurant and winery.
“We’re thrilled that Ken and Kimberly will carry on the strong reputation of the Moyer name,” Ben White said at the time of the sale. “We’re all confident that they have the skills and resources to build the business.”
The Moyer Restaurant and Winery is open Monday – Thursday from 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.; and Sunday from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. For further information see their Facebook page, or call (937) 549-2957.