2016-09-14 / Business

Colonial Inn’s fame is old-fashioned buffet

It would make Grandma proud!

Steve Witte never thought, when he was hanging around his grandmother’s boarding house in Phoenicia, that he would one day own and operate a hotel, bar, and restaurant in the Catskills. But childhood traditions die hard and the love of country, love of food, and love of people in the 1940’s Catskills led him to Pine Hill’s Colonial Inn and today, the buffet dinners he serves there would do his grandmother proud.

The Queens native, who grew up on Long Island, remembers leaving home each May when school ended to travel to Martha Witte’s boarding house in Phoenicia. Though it was taken when the new Route 28 was put in, Witte stayed there until it was time to go back to school in September. “It was so different then,” he says as he thinks back. “There was no TV, no entertainment, so I spent the summer hunting and fishing.” Adding that in those days, there were no local supermarkets or grocery stores in the immediate vicinity, he said, “We grew or shot what we ate, filling our freezers with meat and pantries with canned goods.”

Now, every Saturday night, Witte cooks up a storm and serves it at an all-you-can-eat family style buffet that starts at 5:30 and runs until 9 p.m. It’s definitely cooking like grandma once did; stick to your ribs food that makes a person feel well fed. Corned beef and cabbage, barbecued ribs, Sauerbraten, roast beef, Southern fried chicken, shrimp, chicken cutlets in wine sauce, Swedish meatballs and wild caught Alaskan flounder are just a few of the items likely to appear on the buffet table.

In addition to the main course items, Witte adds pasta with garlic and oil, red cabbage, creamy mashed potatoes, and vegetables of the season like fresh picked corn in the summer are accompanied by a large salad bar. Then of course, there are desserts. Homemade. There is also ice cream. Witte offers full bar service so people can enjoy cocktails with dinner and is happy to do private parties and reunions when asked.

But how he got from then to now, and why he’s still here, is a quintessential Catskill Mountain story.

“I had really great jobs back then,” says the innkeeper. “I worked as a policeman for a while,” says Witte, “then got a great job as a property manager, handling 4,000 apartments in and around Westchester, Long Island, and Forest Hills.” But his passion of fishing and hunting had to be fed and Witte never stopped visiting the Catskills.

When a three-building, handy-man’s special became available in Pine Hill, Witte snapped it up for $13,000. “It was meant to be just hunting and fishing facilities,” he says chuckling. “But I really fixed the house up beautifully. People saw what I did and pushed me to buy the Colonial Inn to do the same.” At the time, according to Witte, the inn was vacant, totally empty, and deteriorating. When they kept pushing, Witte sold his first property for the price of the Colonial and started working on it.

“For three years, I kept my downstate job and just worked up here on the weekends,” Witte says looking back. That was in 1982 and by 1985 he was so busy he had to make a choice. “I could stay downstate and make more money but fight with traffic and frustration or I could move up here and make less, but have a great quality of life. I chose quality of life.”

Today, though retirement is not an option, Witte remains pretty satisfied with the choice. The property, originally built by a cousin of President John Adams in 1790 keeps him busy. (He’s found diaries showing the building has been a post office, a meeting hall and a church.) “I like old things and as a former commercial artist, I have an eye for nice things.” He has filled the aptly named Colonial Inn with antiques and when he’s not cooking, he likes making improvements and collecting new pieces.

He also loves the people. “Our guests just keep coming back,” said Witte, “I deal with a lot of really good people here and that makes all the difference.”

Though he usually limits his cooking to the Saturday night buffet (which is open to both hotel guests and local residents and visitors) Witte also cooks for hotel guests as needed and offers special meals and events and buffets for holidays and ski season weeks. And while he still fishes, Witte has pretty much stopped hunting. “We can get the meat at the grocery store.” For more information on the Colonial Inn, call 254- 5577 or just stop by on Saturday night at 305 Main Street in Pine Hill.

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